2022 Spring in Europe

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Romancing the Stone

ROMANCING THE STONE IN CARTEGNA, COLUMBIA – JANUARY 16-30, 2019

Play this as you look through the page!

We have always enjoyed visiting historical cities throughout Europe, Quebec and Old San Juan and beyond. This time we headed south to Colombia to the colonial city of Cartagena. Cartagena is a city surrounded by thick stone walls built as protection from enemies. The walls were constructed during a 25-year period being completed in 1796. The city is divided into three sections: the historical districts of El Centro and San Diego, and the outer walled in town is Getsemani (Pronounced)… Get-Some-Money. El Centro was home to the upper classes and San Diego was home to the middle classes. We stayed around the corner from the church shown above in El Centro in an old colonial home turned into a hotel named “Hotel Puertas de Cartagena”. The rooms were small, but the staff was wonderful as was the breakfast that was enjoyed in the inner courtyard. Instead of immediately looking for historic sites to visit we just strolled through the old town taking in the colonial architecture, the balconies covered with bougainvillea, the plazas, the massive churches, while stopping at some wonderful bars and restaurants serving delicious meals at a very low cost.   The first night we strolled around the block noting where a small grocery store was and then stopping for a mojito outside on Plaza Fernandez Madrid. The next day we took a walk to Getsemani passing through the gate of entrance to the inner walled city called Puerta del Reloj. It was used as an armory and chapel and in 1888 a four-sided clock was added to a tower. https://hicartagena.com/clocktower/   Right click and open hyperlink for a view and history. On our way back we walked through Plaza de la Aduana, the oldest and largest plaza in Cartagena. It once was used a parade ground, now it is the City Hall and has a statue of Christopher Columbus. https://hicartagena.com/plaza-de-la-aduana/ Click and open this hyperlink. A little further up the road was the Naval Museum which we decided to save for another day. But next to it was a wonderful restaurant. Frank at Pepper Steak and Joanne had a salmon meal with fruit topping, and of course it was time to cool off with a mojito and a rum and lime drink. Now it was time to walk some more so we walked up on the wall (Las Muralles) to the gate at Baluarte de Santo Domingo through the Square and back to our neighborhood plaza. Across the street was a bar called KGB.It was a cool place and we frequented it often on our way back before our evening meal. It has a Russian military theme with Russian memorabilia covering the walls and ceiling such as helmets, Soviet cartoons, guns, hats and the inside room is like the inside of a Russian submarine. The tables were sewing machines with portholes for the tabletop.

The KGB Bar and some high ranking officers

The owner, Gustavo, put those hats on us

We told a friend that we would check out the marinas for him so the next day we took a taxi $1.50 USD to Club Nautico, located out of the city in Manga. We took some pictures and got some information regarding boat haul outs. Then we walked back to the City and passed Fort San Sebastian del Pastillilo, an angular fort to protect the bay. There was another marina called Club Pesca (Sport Fishing). We continued walking over the bridge back to Getsemani, passing all the book kiosks and the Obelisk in the Centennial Park, passing back through Plaza Aduana to Simon Boliver Park. Across the street was an upstairs restaurant called Montesucro with a balcony overlooking the park. It was expensive at $12.00 or so, but the fish was excellent, and the service was impeccable. We wandered back to Santo Domingo Square and stopped to enjoy and afternoon carafe of Tempranillo while listening to the musicians.

Returning to our room to change clothes for the evening we passed Beer Lover’s Bar and Frank tried a pint of English tap. At 5:30 we walked up to the top of the wall at Baluarte de Santo Domingo at Café del Mar for a huge party to watch the sunset. There were hundreds of people. See it in the following link. https://www.ticartagena.com/things-to-do/bars-nightlife/cafe-del-mar/

Across the street from our hotel is a bar/restaurant called La. Estrella. We stopped for a glass of wine and watched the fireworks. We frequently stopped there at night for a nightcap and a few times for a local lunch. We became friends with Alex who now sends us pictures of he, his wife and new baby!

Sunday, we regrouped in the morning taking notes and then went across the street for a local roast pork and chicken lunch. For the afternoon we strolled along the streets looking to take photos of the architecture of the streets. We also stopped in at Las Hijas de la Tostadas to enjoy a caipirinha and mojito and listen to the beautiful voice of a female singer with a guitarist.   That became another of our favorite places, and we loved how the bartender, Raem, put together cocktails. We also loved our favorite waitresses, Louisa and Isabella. Louisa loved to sing along and dance. Louisa is on the right.

Her shirt reads No Fast Food Only Fresh Food!

That evening we took a taxi to Café Havana. We ate pizza upstairs at Bolero. And when Café Havana opened at 8:30 we went downstairs. https://www.cartagenaconnections.com/cafe-havana.html

Monday we were picked up by Fabien Garcia and Jorge for a private tour. Our first stop was at Convento de la Popa. It is located on a 150m-high hill with tremendous views of all of Cartagena. La Virgen de la Candelaria is the patroness of the city and there is a beautiful image of her in the chapel. Also, there is a board with charms pinned on it for all those that have been healed by her. If it was a leg the charm is a leg, and so forth. There is a charming flower-filled patio outside of the chapel.

 

Driving back down the winding road we visited Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. It is the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards and was never taken. We were led through some of the tunnels. They were built so that even a whisper could be heard, and one had to have a secret password which would be the click of your fingers, the stamping of the feet or a whisper. One of the stairways we went up you could not see anyone at the top but standing at the top at a certain distance you could see who was coming up the stairs from below. This fort was the backdrop for the 1984 filming of Romancing the Stone. So, use your imagination and pretend these next two characters are Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. (Of course, you might not be aware, but Turner was Joanne’s maiden name)

We returned to Plaza Aduana to visit a store selling emeralds. Because this store is affiliated with our tour company, we got a good discount on some raw emeralds embedded in rock. See photo at end of this journal.

We walked over to the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver in the Plaza de San Pedro. Pedro Claver was a Spanish monk who came to Cartagena and devoted himself to helping the enslaved people brought from Africa. He was called Apostle of the Blacks and canonized in 1888. There is a bronze statue out front of the convent with him and the slave that became his translator.

We were returned to our neighborhood to note the Teatro (Theater), now used for post graduates. The University is close by. Fabian pointed out the significance of the door knockers of many of the buildings:

Sea creatures = maritime or merchant business people lived in that house; Lizard = Royalty; Lion = army, military strength and power; and a Hand was for clergy.  The larger the door knocker the wealthier were the inhabitants. It was a very informative tour that we enjoyed.

After our evening cocktail at KGB we ate dinner at Marzola, which is the last name of Gustavo (KGB). Since he is from Argentina this restaurant serves Argentinian food. The Patagonian lamb chops were delicious as were the fries and salsas. The lamb chops were served on a board and there was enough for both of us with a bottle of wine cost us $33.00 USD. Tenderloin was being grilled outside the door beckoning us to enter. Along with a bottle of good Argentinian wine what more could you ask for.

That meal was $38.00 USD. The ambiance is as funky as KGB.

https://cartagenacolombiarentals.com/2016/06/marzola-parrilla-steakhouse/

The next day we tried lunch at Espiritu Santo a very popular local lunch spot. It is a huge cavernous restaurant with a huge turnover of clientele. Service is quick, efficient and enough food on the plate to share one entrée. Lunch for a meal for two each with a beer came to USD $7.50. From there we walked to Getsemani to locate Club Quienbra a good night spot to visit. We had a drink in the little bar downstairs and then strolled around the area. We took pictures of Café Havana and continued around a few blocks and stopped for a mango and strawberry daiquiri.


After dinner that night we stopped in at Cuba 1940 and listened to some real good music. See picture below. The man with the sunglasses is blind but had a great smile, which I didn’t capture in this photo

Continuing to stroll around the streets we bought some postcards and then tried to find a post office for three days. There is no such thing. What we finally found was a multipurpose store where we could buy stamps at the cash register. At the entrance there was a box attached to the doorway with a slot to drop in the cards. No one has yet to receive the cards, so much for mail service there.

We also took various pictures of the door knockers.

Note that there is a smaller door as part of the larger door. This is used for leaving and coming in order not to let in too much heat from the outside.

And remember the size of the doorknocker represents the amount of wealth.

That evening we stopped as usual at KGB and then wandered down the street for dinner and drinks with our friends at Las Hijas de la Tostada.   We were always given nachos and salsa when we sat down. And as usual our favorite singer was performing, and we got hugs from Louisa and Isabella.

We decided to pay a visit to Museo de Petro Claver, savior of the slaves. The museum is in the convent, a three-story building surrounded by a tree filled courtyard. We spent an hour visiting all the rooms, some of which included the cell where Petro Claver lived and died. Also, inside are exhibits of religious art, pre-Colombian artifacts, Haitian paintings and African masks. The well in the courtyard is where he baptized the slaves. As you walk into the church next door one needs to notice the stained- glass windows, the Italian marble altar. His skull is visible in the glass coffin in the altar. Right click and open the following hyperlink for more information and photos. http://sanpedroclaver.co/home/sobre-el-museo/ Outside the church in San Pedro Claver Plaza re several metal sculptures. See the one below. There are also listening to a gramophone and card players, those photos shown at the end of this journal.

Being cocktail time, we stepped into “Zaitin” for some very special and refreshing cocktails. Joanne tried “Yoshi”, a combination of gin, lychee, kiwi and lime. She also tried “Madonna” with gin, ginger, mint and tonic. Frank was more traditional with Margaritas. The Yoshi required picking up the top glass sitting on a saucer of crushed ice and slices of kiwi.

That night we ate Argentinian barbecued tenderloin slices at Marzola following by more music at club Cuba 1940.

Our last Friday we found a small local restaurant called Porton de San Sebastian. There were only five or six tables and always filled. Frank ate lomo de pimiento (pepper steak) and Joann ate sea bass enjoyed with a bottle of Vino Tinto. This restaurant was also doing a large take-out business. We stopped at our open-air bar in Santo Domingo plaza and Frank bought a Colombian hat and I purchased coffee bracelets for myself and as gifts. That night we walked back up to Café Del Mar for the sunset and stayed for sax music. On the way back to our hotel we stopped in the see Raem, Louisa and Isabella at Les Hijas de la Tostada.

Saturday, we ate tacos at Hijas, then strolled the streets to the Clock Tower. We found Tu Candela and stopped for gin and tonics while checking out the place. This is where Obama’s secret service men were arrested with hooker’s and piles of cocaine on the table. Shame on them!! The upstairs opened in the evening, so we went back to check out the evening scene, but as usual it is a LATE-night scene. See photo at end of journal.

Sunday, after lunch at our little bar/restaurant across the street we wandered further into the center looking for La Movida Nightclub. It was closed on Sunday, so we went to Santa Teresa plaza we stopped at Harry’s Bar in Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa, an elegant ***** hotel. We left there and walked up the wall to Baluarte San Francisco Javier and then continued walking along the wall to Cafe del Mar.

Monday, we went back to Plaza Aduana and at lunch at the Bar de la Aduana connected to Sophia Hotel. Frank ordered a cazuela with shrimp, octopus, sausage and rice cooked and served in a cazuela bowl. Yum!! Joanne ordered vegetarian taco which came in diagonal slices. All was freshly prepared.

After lunch we visited the Naval Museum. It houses exhibits relating to the Naval Military and the Naval History of Cartagena. The building consists of two floors separated by two garden patios. The top floor also had exhibits and virtual interiors of patrol boats, anti-narco, and submarines.

 

 

 

Looking for Drug Runners.

The remainder of the day was typical for us now, stop at KGB, pizza for dinner and visit with our friends at Hijas and Bar Estrella.

Tuesday January 29 was our last day in Cartagena. We ate a local lunch at Espiritu of fish filete de plancha with papas cocida (potato salad). Because we liked the upstairs at Mondesucro we stopped in for a cocktail. Our bartender, Carlos, concocted the most interesting drinks, one was in glass that looked like a lightbulb.   Then we took a quick tour of the gold museum showing Pre-Columbian land and culture. Before getting ready for dinner we said good-bye to our friends at KGB. That night we ate at a little elegant restaurant down one block away called Anacardas. Joanne ordered Banana Filete (fish) and Frank ordered Chuleta (pork chop), all enjoyed with a bottle of Spanish wine. Then we said our good-byes to our friends at Las Hijas.

Wednesday after our last breakfast in our patio we took a taxi back to the Airport and flew to Fort Lauderdale for the night to return to St. Thomas the following day.

Our breakfast nook.

https://hotelpuertasdecartagena.com-colombia.com/

Following are various other photos.

The hats and bags are common sights all over the city

    

Listening to the Gramophone                        Card playing on old singer sewing machine

 

Baluarte San Francisco Javier with Baluarte de Santo Domingo in the background.

Entrance by Clock Tower

Typical street scene

Purple door house with large doorknocker and beautiful flowers and palms on the balcony.

Emeralds in the rock

Club Nautico

Club Pesca – Sport Fishing

Just imagine this space full of secret service and hookers partying the night away.

Cartagena References

KGB & Marzola – Gustavo Marzola +507 63222888

Restaurant/Bar La Estrella (Corner Bar) Alexa Ramos Galvas +573014389822

Las Hijas de la Tostada – Calle Curato

Hotel Puertas de Cartagena – Calle Sargento Mayor Calle 38 No. 6-5 (Corner)

57(5)6600961 , 57(5)6646030 Cell: 57-311-6519352


puertasdecartagena@gmail.com        www.hotelpuertasdecartagena.com

Front desk: Ely, Angel, Karina – Cook: Carmen – Others: Leider, Yeilis, Nelly


Laundry: 20,000 COP = $6.00 USD

Days Inn – 2601 N. 29th Avenue I-95 & Sheridan St. Hollywood, FL 33020

Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport South – (954) 923-7300 – (800) 593-0104

www/the.daysinn.com/hotel/06117


Banco Popular – Travel with $200 USD

in COP = 1: 2,000, 2: 10,000, 25: 20,000

ATM

1/21/19        300,000 COP = $99 USD

01/27/19      600,000 COP = $202.18 USD @3,033.01

01/28/19      300,000 COP = $103.69 @ 3,020.57

01/29/19      200,000 COP = 70.67 @3016.84


Approximate Exchange Rate:   

COP 2,000 = 0.60 USD

COP 9,000 = 2.75

COP 10, 000 = 3.05

COP 15,000 = 4.50

COP 20, 000 = 6.00


Sample Grocery charges from small market within the wall

            Small bag of chips – 2,640

            Liter Red Wine       – 39,900 = 13.20 less discount on sale 7,980 = 10.55

            Sliced ham               – 16,30

            Cheese                      – 9,750

            Can of Nuts             – 28,000 Frank splurged on large can of mixed nuts

            Liter water               – 3.600

            Total:                         – 102,210 = $33.85 without nuts = $23.75

            Another day           -79,510 = $26.32

Postcards (3) Postage = 3 @ 2,000 and 6 @ 500 = 9,000 COP =$3.00 USD

            Postal box at doorway of Almacen (store)

Lyon and Rhone-Alpes Condrieu Celebration

Some 40 years ago Joanne was at a weekly wine tasting and discovered the wine “Condrieu”.  At that time it cost $30 USD but for her it was the best white wine she had ever sipped.  For some 40 years it remained her favorite white wine.  So, for her 70th birthday she celebrated by traveling to Condrieu to sip more of her favorite wine.  Condrieu is in the Rhone Valley in east central France.  Lyon is the one of the largest cities in France and is located in the Rhone-Alpes region. It is located between the Soane and Rhone Rivers.  In 2018 Lyon will be named the Gastronomic Capital of France.  We were looking not only for good Rhone Valley wines but also a gastronomic experience.

Lyon is divided into Vieux Lyon, the old city center, on the River Saone and the newer current city center on the peninsula (Presqu’ile) at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers.  We had reservations in Vieux Lyon.  This area has a long and interesting history as it was the center of trading during the Renaissance ages and many of the buildings were constructed during the 16th century.

We flew into St. Exupéry Airport in Lyon and called an Uber driver who took us to Place du Change in Vieux Lyon. After sending a text message to Vincent at Mon Hotel Particuliere we were met by Sam and taken to our apartment on 20 Rue Juiverie, next to the famous watchmaker, Philippe Carry at L’Horloger de Saint Paul.  The apartment was on the fifth floor reached by passing through a beautiful entrance, through another door and up the elevator. It was a completely modernized apartment with full kitchen and even a washing machine.  And we felt quite secure with all the safety checks and the lock on our door. See the entrance, the locks on the door and the outside entrance, next door to the watchmaker.

 

Sam gave us a map and explained about places to visit and where to dine.  As it was time for an early evening meal we walked the cobbled streets until we found Le Rocambole, recommended by Sam.  It was located on Quai Romain Rolland.  We enjoyed a meal of moules (mussels) and a cheese plate with mercellin cheese complemented by a lovely Rosé.  We continued to stroll along the narrow streets and stopped to buy some food and wine for our apartment.  We were surprised how inexpensive it was.  As it had been a long day of travel we went to bed early.

The next morning Sam had told us that there would be a market day on both sides of the Saone River.  So we headed out early to cross the bridge Pont de la Feuillée. We first visited some of the tables on our side of the river and then crossed over to the other side.  We browsed many tables selling books and there was interesting book store across the street with murals of books up the four floors of the outside wall.

Find Frank?

We explored some of the streets in the neighborhood until we came to the Place des Terreaux, the main square of Lyon with the City Hall.  There was a big fountain installed on the terrace, but it was covered up for renovation.  We stopped in a patisserie and bought an éclair and croissant for our walk back.  After resting for a while, we stopped for a three course delicious lunch for two at La Chimere with a bottle of rosé for a total of 57 €. Then we walked to the Place Saint-Jean and stopped in front of the Saint Jean Cathedral to listen to some musicians. We were headed out to take the funicular up to Notre Dame but our plans changed and we crossed the Pont Bonaparte to Place Bellacour.  It is the third largest square in France.  Up further past this square was another square with an enormous sculpture of a tree of flowers.

On the way back to our place we stopped for a refreshment and then back to our grocery store for something light to eat.

$20.00 for all this!!

Monday, we went back to the metro stop at Saint Jean and rode the Funicular up to Fourviere.  Here we visited the Basilica of Notre-Dame.  There is another basilica underneath reached by a door on the right side in the middle of the church.  It has often been referred to as the upside-down elephant. Because of the four towers on the top basilica represent the legs of an elephant.  Outside you get a stunning view of Vieux Lyon.  Down the road we also visited the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre built in the second century. See the link below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_NotreDame_de_Fourvière  That afternoon we were scheduled to take a boat cruise which departs from the other side of the Saone on the Quai de Celestins.  We walked up the street from there and stopped at Le Bouchon Lustre.  Our waitress. Laura, just graduated from college in Marseilles and has an upcoming position as a translator in Bristol, England.  This is a bouchon, a family-run business specializing in Lyonnaise food. That means there are plenty of meats, salads, cheeses and desserts.  We ordered the plat du jour for each and a bottle of rosé for 33 € total !!

Our river cruise took us upriver to the Ile Barbe passing Vieux Lyon with view of the Basilique de Fourviere, L’Homme de la roche, and Fort Saint-Jean and back. We had a good time speaking with some of the people with a mix of Spanish and French.  We headed back towards our apartment walking the streets of Presqu’ile.  After crossing the bridge Pont de la Feuillee we stopped into an English bar. The bar was tended by English females which provided a lot of laughing and joking around.

   

The next day we planned on spending two hours with a Lyon Greeter that we had reserved before leaving home.  Lyon Greeters are volunteers that live in Lyon. We met her at the Tourism Office in Bellecour Plaza.  Her name was Michelle Rivot and she asked what we hadn’t seen yet.  We told her we have read about the traboules but hadn’t seen any. A traboule is a narrow passageway that connects two streets by crossing inside a block of houses.  That was fascinating and we could see how helpful it was for the Resistance during the wars.  She also brought us to Soierie Saint-Georges, a silk weaving workshop.  It is the last active one in Vieux Lyon.  There are others in Croix Rousse District which we were not going to have time to visit.  I did purchase two scarfs.

For more information and pictures click on the following link: https://www.yelp.com/biz/soieriesaintgeorgeslyon

From there we walked along Rue St. Jean over to the Quai and stopped for an ice cream cone.  The outside temperature that day was 90+F.(32C.). degrees.  We continued across the Pont de la Veuillee and walked along the river to reach the Tete d’Or Park.  Michelle showed us to the rose, (not to be confused with Rosé) garden and then she was off on a bicycle to another meeting.  She has also lived in Australia and her English was very good so she liked the opportunity to use it.  The park covers 117 hectares consisting of many paths around the central lake.  There is also a zoo and a botanical garden.  We continued to walk around the lake and stopped at a small restaurant for a glass of rosé to cool down.  From there we called for Uber to take us to Les Halles Lyon also now known as Halles Paul Bocuse.  This is Lyon’s famous indoor food market with 59 markets including bars, restaurants, chocolates, meats, cheeses, pastries and more.  This is named after Lyon’s son and famous Chef Paul Bocuse.  It even sells the famous white Bresse chickens and they are sold with the heads and feathers attached. See this site and then click on The Park: http://www.loisirsparcdelatetedor.com/en/

That evening we dined on canard (duck) for Frank and cod for Joanne.  A perfect ending to our stay in Lyon.

A bouchon is a type of restaurant found serving traditional Lyonnaise dishes such as andouillettes sausages, roast pork, chicken fricassee, St-Marcellin, a creamy and slightly tangy cow’s-milk.

The next morning, we called on Uber and got the same driver as yesterday.  He had a difficult time finding Hertz rental at Gare de Parrache as it was underground where the GPS doesn’t work.  We finally had to walk down the ramp where you would return the car. Then off we headed to the Southern Rhone in our new Citroen. Of course, if you are going to use a GPS you should remember to turn on the sound or you might travel a lot further than needed until realization hits you.  After half an hour Joanne said, “Why isn’t she talking?” Then we turned on the volume and retraced our route. We stopped at a pizza restaurant that made delicious pizza and we were able to watch it being made. Since the owner of Wine Passion Panoramic would not be available to let us in until she returned from work, we first found it and then returned to the village of Charvanay and walked around.  We found a Tabac that also had a bar with draft beer, called Bar Tabac Presse du Centre, and stopped there to cool off and quench our thirst.  The weather was hot in the 90’s.  We met Herve Bossy and continued to visit with him each afternoon.  A glass of wine was 1 euro and a biere was 1.3 euros.  There was another bar in town at the center called Bar Les Halles, but we preferred our friend Herve and his daughter.

For more information on the town Charvanay click on the link below and especially scroll down to the pictures.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/feb/17/10bestrestaurantslyonchosenbychefsexperts

Wine Passion Panoramic was a perfect name for this chambre d’hote.  It was at the top of a hill overlooking the town below and the surrounding vineyards. Visit the following website: http://www.winepassionpanoramic.webself.net/  We met Veronique but never Yvan as he was in the south of France working on another place they have.

That first night we had difficulty finding a restaurant as restaurants are closed on Wednesdays. We finally stopped into a gas station with a bar and restaurant, Relais St. Michel.  We ate a wonderful steak and fries with great wine.  We stopped at the bar after dinner and mingled with the local people from the village.  We enjoyed the wandering through the village.

Where is everyone?

Thursday, we visited the winery Vignobles Versier and had a nice tasting in the cellar with Maxime Verzier.  We purchased a bottle of Viognier & St. Joseph for 13.5 € and La MadoveBohème for 10€.  Condrieu is a wine made from the Viognier grape. From there we headed for our next winery, Montez du Monteillet and enjoyed our tasting with Julie. Of course, we are drinking Condrieu.

Frank: “Sorry, It was 95 outside!”

Visit our first winery at the following link and see the pictures of the second winery  http://en.condrieucoterotie.com/vignoblesverzier1.html

That same day we stopped at Relais du Pilat for a delightful and relaxing lunch of the plât du jour and a pichet of wine for 31.5€ again for both of us.  Our big meal of the day was always lunch.  We bought snacks of cheeses, a baguette, and fruits for the evenings.

 

Friday, we drove to Malleval, an attractive village in the Park naturel region of Pilat.  We drove a winding road to a village of stone buildings with a rail station and a stream.  The highest point was the church commanding a panoramic view of the area.  We tried to find the grenier à sel, the salt store but what we found was a deserted building for sale, a disappointment. In the photo beloe I am asking directions to the grenier.

The “only” person, to whom to ask directions, with my increasing French language skills?1!

For a nice picture of this village see the following site: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.pilatpatrimoines.fr/Communes/Malleval.html%3Fsubmited%3D1%253B&prev=search

We had a another delicious lunch this time at Le Péché du Pilat, probably our favorite lunch.  We ate the plât du jour with a pichet of vin pays and a glass of Syrah on the shady terrace.

The link will show pictures of this restaurant.

https://www.tripadvisor.fr/LocationPhotoDirectLinkg7092306d4457733i161592075Le_Peche_du_PilatMalleval_Loire_Auvergne_Rhone_Alpes.html

From there we drove on to Pelussin but was disappointed with that village.  I think we missed the Quartier de Virieu, which was the most interesting section, but we did not find it.  Shortly after we arrived back at Chavanay and stopped to see our friend Herve and his friends.

Our last day we first stopped to mail a package and post card at the post office.  It was exceptionally inexpensive.  Then we drove to the town of Condrieu.  On the way we passed many hillside vineyards with the names of the wine négociants (wine merchants who assemble the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name) such as E. Guigal, Paul Jaboulet and in such large stone signs.

 

We strolled through the town looking for a lunch restaurant. We stopped in a corner bar for a glass of wine and asked directions.  The restaurant recommended was closed, so we continued walking.  We stopped at the tourist office and was given the same name so we found our way back to the car and headed back to Chavanay.  We noticed the sign for Beau Rivage and turned in there.  This is a well known resort on the Rhone River and an exclusive restaurant.  We were seated to a four course lunch with white table cloths, various waiters, silver and crystal.  This was my birthday meal with Condrieu wine and it was worth the price of 108€.  Of course, on our way back we stopped to see Herve but it was his day off so his daughter ran it during the day and his wife at night.  Once we returned home we sent a postcard thanking them.

See the link for Beau Rivage:

http://www.hotelbeaurivage.com/

The next morning we were off to Exupery Airport Lyon.  We had reservations for Hotel Forum which we realized was too far from the airport.  The girl at the Hertz counter got us reservations at NH Hotels in the airport which was a great choice and very first class for an airport hotel and she canceled our other reservation.   That was a very smart move as we had no boarding passes and would have to be at our gate at 5:15 a.m.  We had a delightful lunch at the hotel and then wandered around the airport so we would know where to go in the morning.  Pizza was our final meal in the airport.

Our trip home was uneventful.  We flew into Madrid and that airport was very easy to navigate.  Then we flew into Miami which was nice as we had our global entry card.  We arrived in St. Thomas at 8:30 p.m.

All in all, the trip was a great and uncomplicated endeavor to pull off. The driving on the country’s “D” routes was much less nerve wracking than say our “1200 miles powered by Guinness” Ireland trip of a couple years back.

It would have been nice to have a little more time to allow for hiking some trails but hopefully that future plan will not be too far off from now.

We may also mention how well Uber worked for us. St Thomas doesn’t allow Uber because of the strong Taxi Association and they don’t take credit cards. Modernization in St Thomas?? Ha! Their arrival time was usually inside a couple of minutes or so and very inexpensive compared to a taxi.

We carried our own GPS “Michelle” and we would highly recommend doing so if you are renting a car. Although the cars in Europe for the most part come equipped with one, we already had ours programed and did not have to figure out a system foreign to us.

We hope you enjoyed the journey!

Joanne and Frank

OUR STEED

 

Ireland…. or 1,200 Miles Powered by Guinness

June 4-5, 2015 Boston to Dublin

Getting There – June 4, 2015

After a busy day of doctor’s appointments, mailing our box of purchases back to St. Thomas and of course lunch in between, we returned our car rental and proceeded to the terminal for Aer Lingus.  After getting through TSA we still had time before our 9:00 p.m. departure so stopped at Vino Volo for a glass of wine and a plate of three kinds of cheeses (Piedmont Brie, Drunken Goat cheese, Vermont Cheddar) with fig jam, almonds and olives. The flight was pleasant but Joanne only managed one to two hours of sleep.

Exploring Dublin – June 5, 2015

Our rental car from Europcar was a Renault.  We turned on our GPS “Nancy” and she almost got us to our hotel in Ballsbridge, Grand Canal Hotel.  She was within 14 meters, so it was easily found.  After putting our suitcases in our room we walked to Dublin and stopped to visit Trinity College.  We walked around the campus noting the library, which had a very long line of people waiting to get in so we by-passed that and unfortunately missed the Book of Kells, viewed the sphere within a sphere (bronze globe) and the Chapel.  From there we got turned around and ended up in the Powerscourt shopping centre.  Using Joanne’s inner GPS talent we found our way to the Temple Bar district with its cobbled streets lined with shops, galleries and cafes.  We found a couple of stools at the Temple Bar and ordered an Irish Coffee and a Guinness.  http://www.thetemplebarpub.com/  We continued along the Liffey River and crossed the Ha’penny Bridge.  It is a high-arched cast-iron foot bridge officially called the Liffey Bridge.  It got its nickname from the halfpenny toll that was levied on it up until 1919.  We crossed back over it and ate lunch at Merchant’s Arch.  Joanne had delicious fish chowder and Frank ordered the Auld Dublin Coddle stew which went very well with Guinness and Smithwick’s beer.  Since we still hadn’t any sleep and it was cold we headed back to our hotel.  Just before getting there we stopped into Becky Morgan’s pub and enjoyed our conversation with John the bartender.  There Joanne discovered Smithwick’s Blonde beer.   We closed out the night with a glass of red wine at our hotel bar and after that slept for nine and a half hours.

Exploring Dublin – June 6, 2015

Heading back into Dublin we first walked along the canal for a way and then strolled through St. Stephen’s Green.  This is an enclosed park landscaped with flowerbeds, trees, a fountain and memorials.  We continued on our journey to the Guinness Storehouse.  It was so cold we stopped into Bank Pub and drank a Bailey’s coffee and Guinness.   After warming up and letting a small shower pass we continued walking through Dublin Castle and then passing Christ Church Cathedral, Ireland’s oldest cathedral.

Guinness Storehouse is at St. James’s Gate Brewery.  Thankfully we had previously purchased tickets online and were able to skip past the long lines waiting for tickets on the lower ground floor. The ground floor includes a retail store and an exhibit of the lease Arthur Guinness signed December 31, 1759.  The tour covers seven floors (which includes the lower ground and ground floors) built around a huge print glass atrium.  The self tour starts on the first floor showing the step by step brewing process and the cooperage exhibit.  The second floor is the tasting room with instructions as to how best to hone the senses to fully appreciate it.   The third floor is devoted to the various advertising campaigns.  The fourth floor shows how to correctly pour a pint.  There was also a room with Irish dancers teaching some of the dance steps to the tourists.  We did not take the pour experience since there was a long waiting period.  The sixth floor is a glassed in viewing area of Dublin.  Back to the fifth floor we enjoyed a pint of Guinness in the Brewer’s Dining Hall. www.guinness-storehouse.com


We neglected to take a picture at the Temple Bar so after a quick lunch in a small pub we headed back there and each ordered an Irish Coffee.  On the return to our hotel we strolled through Merrion Square, a peaceful park and garden surrounded by lovely Georgian town houses.  Once again we stopped in at Becky Morgan’s to visit with John and Keith and watched a hurling game.  Unfortunately Dublin lost to Galway.  Harrumph!  Better have another Guinness.

June 7-8, 2015 – Kilkenny / June 7, 2015 On the road to Kilkenny

“Nancy” took us out of Dublin to the gardens at Powerscourt.  It was sunny and not quite as cold.  The original house was gutted by fire in 1974 but the ground floor has been beautifully renovated.  The gardens comprise a dramatic setting.  The Italian gardens are beautiful landscaped just steps down from the house.  We took the walking tour first to the Tower Valley surrounded by trees and plants of over 250 varieties.  The Pepper pot Tower was modeled on a pepper pot from Lord Powerscourt’s dining table.  The Japanese Garden is a Victorian interpretation of a Japanese garden and was created in 1908.  The Grotto is one of the oldest features of Powerscourt Gardens.  The fountain in Triton Lake is based on the fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome.  It was interesting reading the amusing pet names in the Pet’s Cemetery.  We passed the Dolphin Pond and admired the ironwork of The English Gate with its rose, thistle and shamrock motifs representing England, Scotland and Ireland.  The Walled Gardens has beautiful flowers with a reflective pond in honor of the 7th Viscount’s mother. We passed through the Bamberg Gate which came from the Cathedral at Bamberg in Germany. http://powerscourt.com/gardens

Glendalough is the valley of two lakes.  It has a monastic site established by St. Kevin in the 6th century.  It was a center of learning devoted to the care of the sick and copying and illuminating manuscripts. After spending so much time at Powerscourt and seeing the long lines of cars and buses and it was getting late we decided we would have to pass on visiting the ruins.

Nancy took us through a lot of back roads. It was Sunday and it seemed like every small village was having a bicycle race.  When we arrived in Enniscorthy we had trouble finding a restaurant.  As usual we stopped in a pub to inquire and were shown how to get to Bailey’s.  There we had the best salmon meal of the whole trip.

We finally arrived at Kilkenny at Breagagh B and B owned by Rosaleen and Larry.  We walked into town which took about 20 minute.  It is one of Ireland’s loveliest inland cities.  We walked along High Street and turned into Kiernan’s Street where we found Kytelers Inn Restaurant and Bar.  It was named after Dame Alice Kyteler, a 14th century witch who once lived in the building.  She poisoned all her husbands, made a lot of money from doing that, and after being sentenced escaped to Europe.  We had a pleasant time speaking with an elderly gentleman.  We also noticed an old sign on the wall “Will’s Gold Flake Cigarettes 10 for 3d”.  He said even he wasn’t old enough to remember what 3d meant.  Since Kilkenny is the home of Smithwick’s Beer we had to have that.  There was rock and roll music being played in the court yard by Trad Sessions.  Walking back to our room we stopped in at Christy’s Bar.  Frank sat next to a young man named Dave who was reviewing pictures he had taken of skydivers at a grass strip nearby.  As usual he did not know where St. Thomas was and so he Googled it on his iPad.  There was free wi-fi, as in all restaurants and pubs we visited.  http://www.kytelersinn.com/

June 8, 2015 – Kilkenny Exploration

After a delightful breakfast in the sunlit room we walked back to town to Kilkenny Castle. We took the self-guided walking tour through this castle originally built during the first decade of the 13th century.  It later became the residence of the powerful Butler family until 1967 when it was presented to the people of Kilkenny for 50 pounds.  The family sold almost all the contents of the castle in a ten-day auction in 1935.  The buildings have been in the care and restoration of the Office of Public Works since 1969.  We walked through many corridors and at least 10 rooms tastefully restored.  Outside at one side is a beautiful manicured garden and on the other side is a green area of over an acre for the enjoyment of the public for picnics, playing ball with your dog, a place set aside with swings and slides for children, etc.   http://www.kilkennycastle.ie/  We then walked to Medieval Mile looking for a store called Winston’s.  Joanne finally found the lace curtain she has been looking for to hang on our bedroom window.

One block away was the Smithwick’s Brewery.  We took the tour and learned the adversities that were overcome over 300 years to perfect this ale.  We learned the history which started in 1231 at the Abbey of St. Francis where they learned to purify the water.  We then visited the living room of the Cole family where each person in each picture came alive through holograms to talk about how each generation perfected the ale. We then continued on and learned about the ingredients that are used.  Finally we ended up in the tasting room.  It was a fascinating tour with only six of us and our guide.

www.smithwicksexperience.com/

We then searched for St. Canice’s Cathedral but got turned around and found St. Mary’s Cathedral instead.  We found our way back to town and looked for a place for lunch.  There were so many pubs/restaurants but we settled on Kytelers.

From there we headed for a walk along the River Nore.  We found Tynan’s bar that we had to enter since it is the last name of the Irish man who renovated our kitchen and bathroom.  In fact his family is still living in Ireland but it was not owned by them.  From there we walked the grounds of Kilkenny Castle.

It was getting colder and so we headed back to cross the bridge to explore the other side.  We stopped in Killford Arms (formerly known as P.V.’s).  Joanne warmed up with an Irish Coffee and Frank drank a Smithwick’s beer.  Returning towards town we stopped in Matt the Millers for dinner.  We ate stuffed mushrooms and rack of lamb.  Traditional ballad and folk music was being performed by a group called After Dark.  Since it was getting late we headed back across the bridge to our B and B, but first stopped again in at Christy’s for a nightcap.

III. June 9-10, 2015 Kilkenny to Blarney

June 9, 2015 – On the road  Kilkenny to Blarney

We got an early start and drove to House of Waterford Crystal. Once again there were only six of us on our tour.  The first stop was the blowing room.  We watched the craftsmen as they transformed molten crystal into elegant shapes.  Next was the moulding room where we watched wooden moulds and hand tools being made from birch and pear wood. We continued on through the quality inspection rooms.  There are six inspections and at any one of them if the glass does not pass it is smashed and returned to the furnace for re-melting.  In the hand marking we watched temporary grid patterns and vertical lines being drawn for the cutters. There are two types of cutting, wedge and flat cutting.  The craftsmen are trained for a minimum of eight years.  In the sculpting department wheels are used instead of mallets and chisels.  The master sculptor works in three dimensional programming.  It could take days, weeks and even months to complete a sculptor.  The last stop was the engraving done with a copper wheel.  We were allowed to talk to the craftsmen as we passed each stop.  When we got back to our car we discovered we had a ticket.  We did not see the Meter Stand to get a ticket to put on our dashboard.  That fine was for 40 €.  www.waterfordvisitorcentre.com/  View the factory tour.

From there we stopped at Youghal, a small seaside town.  We ate at a little place called Treacy’s and had soup and sandwich and sampled one of their local beers.

It was getting late so we did not spend any more time there but headed to the Jameson Experience at Midleton.  We just missed a tour and the next one would not be for another 45 minutes so we had to pass on taking the tour.  The old distillery in Midleton stopped production in 1975 after 150 years.  A new distillery was opened on an adjacent site.  The original distillery has been restored and is the only self-contained 18th century industrial complex of its kind in Britain or Ireland.  The complex consists of 11 acres of grounds and refurbished buildings.  We took the brochure which explained all 13 stages of distilling which we read while sampling of the Gold Reserve and the Family Jameson 12 Y.ear Old.  After the tour people were handed a glass of Jameson Ginger & Lime so we also split a glass of that.  Yummy!  www.jamesonwhiskey.com  If you don’t have Facebook fill in country and birth date.

We finally made it to Glenmaroon B and B.  What a charming place this was with a lovely Atrium.  Ann Forgarty was a delight and welcomed us with a map and pointing places we could visit.  Since it was dinner time she suggested a couple of restaurants nearby in the village of Blarney.  We drove there and ate dinner at Muskerry Arms.  After dinner we strolled around the village (2 streets) and stopped in at the Blarney Castle Hotel.  We were sipping on our drinks at the bar and conversing with a couple of local people when they got up and sat at a table next to us and pulled out their instruments.  They were soon joined by others and we listened to them jam with flutes, Busker (similar to bag pipes), mandolin, guitars, violins and the spoons.  The elderly we had been speaking with even played the spoons on a young girl’s head who was watching the scene.  What fun!!

June 10, 2015 – Cork County

The next morning we drove into Cobh (Cove) a pretty seaside town.  Cobh was the departure point for 2.5 million of the six million Irish people who immigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950.  It included Annie Moore, the first to land at Ellis Island, NY.  We visited the Heritage Center and took the self-guided tour.  It showed the history of the emigration, the Titanic, which left its final port here and the Lusitania sunk by a German u-boat off of Kinsale. “The town’s architecture and streetscape is distinctly Victorian. St. Colman’s Cathedral dominates the town. its 49-bell Carillon  is the only such instrument in Ireland and is the largest in Ireland and Britain”.  We stopped in at the Titanic Bar and sipped on a wonderful Irish coffee.  http://visitcobh.com/

We then left for Kinsale by way of a ferry boat ride.  It cost 5€ for a five mile ride.  Kinsale (Head of the Sea) is a picturesque town known as Ireland’s Find Food Capital. It has a yacht-filled harbor and narrow winding streets.  We wandered through the market and the streets and stopped at Lord Kingsdale for lunch, still on the search for the best seafood chowder and this one had large chunks of fish. www.kinsale.ie

We headed back to Blarney and bought tickets for the Blarney Castle and Gardens.  Blarney Castle is the third structure to have been erected on this site built by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.   It is a tower house.  We walked through the vaulted first floor which was once the Great Hall.  We continued up another flight of stairs but to get to the Blarney Stone was another 127 steps to the top of the keep.  We opted not to do that although the legend has it that if you kiss it you will have the gift of eloquence. I think Frank does just fine without having to do that.  We then explored the gardens covering over 60 acres of sprawling parklands including gardens, avenues, arboretums and waterways.  We walked through Ireland’s only poison garden. Frank was able to spot a marijuana plant unmarked.  How did he do that??  All the plants are sign posted with information about their toxicity, traditional and modern day uses.  We passed a Western Red Cedar Tree and had to take a picture since it was something like we had never seen before.  We then followed a grassy path lined with flowers to the fern garden where a waterfall cascades down one side.

We passed walled kitchen garden and then came upon Blarney House, a Scottish baronial mansion, but we were too late in the day to enter it.  The Rock Close is a mystical place inhabited by fairies where you walk through a leafy canopy of ancient yew and oak trees and the Witches Stone.  It was getting late so we drove a short distance to Blarney village.   We stopped in Muskerry Arms for a Jameson, soda and lime.  Being refreshed we walked over to the Blarney Castle Hotel for dinner.  www.blarneycastle.ie  Click on the Gardens and then view the Fern Garden especially.

June 11, 2015 – Blarney to Tralee

Ring of Kerry

Driving on the left with the steering wheel on the right was nerve wracking on the many small roadways.  They are well paved but have no shoulders. This morning after already having bounced off a curb or two we headed to drive the Ring of Kerry.  We had gone about half way there when a good sized lorry came barreling towards us.  Frank swerved a little too much to the left and we had a blown out tire.  After changing the tire we headed into Killarney to the Tyre store.  There are Tyre stores in every good sized town.  We now know why.  After $136 dollars for a new tire we were on our way again.  It is a route around the peninsula where we took in captivating mountain and coastal scenery.  We stopped in Sneem, a charming town with brightly painted cottages.  There were a few tour buses there but it was just after lunch so we were able to find a spot (Blue Bull) for a Guinness, Smithwick’s and of course seafood chowder.  Frank opted for a salad.  Leaving the Ring of Kerry we drove through Killarney where we decided that an Irish Coffee would perk us up.  We found parking and walked into Hannigan’s Bar and Hotel.  It was a wonderful pick-me-up, done properly.

Tralee

The Willow’s at Tralee was our B and B for the night.  We were met by Tim and after showing up our room gave us a map of the town which was in walking distance.  Frank was wearing his shirt that had Alexander Hamilton (the schooner) on the back.  We were stopped by an elderly man who wanted to discuss the person Alexander Hamilton.  He was quite interesting and knew more U.S. history than we did.  After that we strolled through the Rose Garden.  This garden had 6,000 rose bushes.  It is host to the Rose of Tralee International Festival.  The park boasts leisure walks, rose gardens, garden of the senses, playground & a commemorative fountain.  The Rose Garden in the Tralee Town Park is a home to a life size bronze statue depicting the original Rose of Tralee Mary O’Connor and the author of the Rose of Tralee ballad William Pembroke Mulchinock sculpted by an Irish sculptor Jeanne Rynhart.  We ate dinner at the Grand Hotel at Samuel’s Restaurant and after a Jameson, soda and lime we ordered prime rib and sea trout with a bottle of Cotes du Rhone Domaine des Espiers.  For a night cap we stopped in at Murphy’s and talked with a couple of fishermen to learn about sea trout.  They are a trout that will go to sea to feed before returning to the river to spawn. This sounded like salmon to us. Blarney! www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/AWomen/RoseTralee.html  This is the story of the origin.

June 12, 2015 – Tralee to Adare

Dingle Peninsula

This morning we chose from a menu what we wanted for breakfast and decided to try something different, smoked salmon and eggs which was a nice change.  The Dingle Peninsula offers towering mountains and spectacular seascapes.  We stopped at Conor’s Pass with parking and a viewing area.  Many went by foot to wander around the hilltops.  We next stopped at Slea Head where we could view the Blasket Islands.  There was a sculpture of a Crucifixion beside the road.  We passed museums of stone age forts and beehive huts.  At Skipper Restaurant we ate local oysters and split a bottle of Cúl Dorcha, a Kerry Brewery beer which was quite good. www.dinglepeninsula.ie  Click on Read More and then Attractions and Activities

Foynes Flying Boat Museum

This museum was officially open in July 1989 by Maureen O’Hara Blair.  The museum presents detailed history of the seaplane service.  Displayed was Captain Charles F. Blair’s personal aviation collection.  In 1940 he was named chief pilot of American Export Airlines, later known as American Overseas Airlines.  Capt. Blair was the husband of Maureen O’Hara.  September 2, 1978 Capt. Blair was piloting a Grumman Goose from St. Croix to St. Thomas when his plane developed engine trouble and crashed, killing him instantly.  When Frank came to St. Thomas he worked for them.  The museum consisted of a radio and weather room, a room showing how Foynes was at one time the center of the commercial aviation world with Pan Am Airways, British Overseas Airways and American Export Airlines, a B314 Replica which had ocean liner luxury, maritime museum floors dealing with the history of the River Shannon and the port.  We viewed a hologram which stepped back to 1943 to the night Chef Joe Sheridan invented Irish Coffee here in Foynes for some weary passengers returning to the airport restaurant after bad weather hampered their New York bound flight.  When the pilot declared how good it was and wanted to know if it was Brazilian, Chef Joe thought for a moment and then stated “No that was Irish Coffee!!”  www.flyingboatmuseum.com  Click on Irish Coffee for the story.

Adare

Our GPS “Nancy” got us to Adare but not where our B and B (Coatesland House) was located.  As usual we parked and stopped into Aunty Lena’s and asked the bartender.  He knew the place and explained to us how to get there.  We called and were told not to worry and to enjoy something to eat which we did.  Frank ordered bacon (actually slabs of ham) and sausage and potatoes with a Guinness and Joanne ordered a chicken Caesar and a Sauvignon Blanc.  When we were shown our room we mentioned that we would have liked to have a bottle of wine.  Betty, the owner’s friend, found us a bottle which was questionable but we drank a glass anyway.  Breakfast the next morning was quite the spread of cereals, juices, breads, meats, cheeses, yogurts, tomatoes and probably more.  We met Florence (owner) before we left and she was lovely.  See the following for the thatch roofed homes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hNKRYRRQaU

June 13, 2015 – Adare to Ennis

Afternoon Exploration of Ennis

Our next stop was at Sanborn House B and B in Ennis.  Once again Nancy wasn’t getting us to where we needed to be so we drove into town.  We stopped in at Kelly’s for a beer and to be able to use the free wi-fi to find out where we should be. Just to make sure were in the right direction we stopped at a gas station.  It was just up the road and we were lucky to meet Teresa before she left for the afternoon.  It was a nice house in a quiet area but the room, especially the shower was very small.

We drove back to town with a map we found in the living room.  We roamed around and as it was getting late for lunch we stopped at Town Hall at the Grand Hotel.  The only drink we saw at the patron’s tables was a glass of wine so we did the same which went quite well with a duck paté dish and a goat cheese and beet salad.  We wandered further to a church that was having a wedding.

Evening – Football Game, etc.

It got quite cold so we headed back to our car to put more money in the meter.  We found McGann’s pub and stepped in.  John told us to wait by the meter and when it hit 5:30 to put in one coin which would be good for one hour.  After 6:30 parking was free.   The football (soccer) game between Ireland and Scotland was on the television.  Joanne enjoyed the game with Jameson and Frank with Guinness.  Unfortunately Ireland lost at the last minute.  We left there and stopped in at The Market Place for dinner.  It was an upscale place.  Frank ordered pepper steak and Joanne order Cajun salmon which went well with a glass of wine.

VII.   June 14-15 Ennis to Galway

Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are breathtaking, rising 702 feet out of the sea for a distance of five miles.  It is home to Ireland’s largest mainland seabird nesting colony.  From the cliff edge you can see the seabirds and especially Puffins, although we did not see them.  From that height they look like specks flying around. We first walked up to O’Brien’s Tower, built n 1865 by Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for tourists.  Then we headed back and went up the pathway to the other side.  There are flagstone blocks used as guard rails.  Some people preferred to walk on the open side but we were content to stay behind the barriers.  We were told there have been suicides over the sides.  Back at the Visitor Centre, a cave like structure, we took the self guided tour through the exhibition rooms.  There were short movies showing a bird’s eye view of the cliffs.  www.cliffsofmoher.ie  We traveled to the coastal village called Doolin to quench our thirst at Gus O’Connor’s Pub before driving through the Burren. The bartender stated that he would make us the best Irish Coffee and if it wasn’t the best we would not have to pay for it.  We paid for it!

The Burren

We then drove through The Burren which means “rocky land” in Gaelic.  It is a vast limestone plateau where few trees manage to grow, yet other Mediterranean and alpine plants thrive.  They grow around the shallow lakes and take root in the crevices of the limestone pavements.  These limestone slabs are used to build the stone fences criss-crossing the area.  They are not like the rock walls normally seen dividing properties.  The slabs are arranged vertically to make a fence.  We picked one up and they are heavy.  It was a long drive and we only saw two other cars.    We then continued on our way to Galway but first stopped at Moran’s of the Weir.  It is a traditional thatched cottage that dates back over 250 years still being run by the Moran family. It is renowned the world over for its superb seafood and Galway oysters and we certainly enjoyed them along with seafood chowder and garlic crab claws.   The oysters were definitely the best. 

The Weir was named after an old wall constructed across the nearby tidal river to trap salmon. Local people also dredged for Galway Bay Oysters from the nearby Oyster Beds. Throughout the 1800′s large boats (Galway Bay Hookers) brought turf (Peat) from the bogs of Connemara and seaweed which was a natural soil fertilizer from the Aran Islands.  Local farmers would come with horse drawn carts to buy turf for winter fires and seaweed for their farms. This was thirsty work and could only be satisfied with a pint of Guinness or a glass of whiskey.  Three of the nine houses in The Weir acquired liquor licenses and a flourishing trade was done for years. However we chose a French J. Moreau Sauvignon Blanc.

Galway City

We found our B and B called Rock Lodge in Whitestrand, within walking distance to Galway center.  We checked in with Bridie and then walked into town.  Galway is the center for the Irish-speaking regions in the West and a lively university city. We walked along the docks on the banks of the River Corrib and up and down the winding narrow streets of the city center.  We stopped into The Front Door for Jameson and Guinness for a last drink before heading back to our B and B for the night.

VIII.   June 15, 2015 – Galway and Mayo Counties

Connemara and surroundings

We headed west to Connemara , a National Park area.  Our first stop was in the village of Clifden once a market town set between the Atlantic Ocean and the Twelve Bens mountain range.  We were early so most of the craft shops were just beginning to open.  We walked up the one of the two churches.  There was a railroad that once went to Galway but ceased after the famine and the emigration.  We visited the museum and were told that since tourism is slow there is some talk about  a bike route being  a possibility of bringing more tourists since the railroad would not be put back.   Before continuing on we stopped at Mannion’s Bar for a Smithwick’s regular and Blonde beer.

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Castle was built as a private home by  Mitchell Henry.  He and his wife Margaret purchased the property in 1850.  She fell ill with dysentery while on a holiday in Egypt and died shortly after.  Mitchell Henry had her body laid to rest in the mausoleum on the property.  He also built the Neo-Gothic church to the east of the Castle was built as a memorial chapel to his wife.  He also created a 6-acre Victorian Walled Garden with 21 glass houses which housed exotic fruits, Kitchen Gardens, Head Gardener’s Cottage, Workers Bothy and Lime Kiln.  The plants and flowers were introduced to Ireland before 1901.  The castle changed hands a few times and since 1920 it has been the monastic home of the Benedictines.  The nuns arrived at Kylemore as refugees, having fled their monastery at Ypres during WWI.  When they settled in the nuns transformed the Abbey into an international girls boarding school from 1923-2010.  The nuns still reside there on the upper floors.   We visited the Castle’s first floor rooms and then walked to the Neo Gothic Church.  The Walled Gardens were a mile away so we took the shuttle bus there and back.   www.kylemoreabbeytourism.ie  Go to the History Link

Cong

We continued on our way on the Wild Atlantic Way to Killary, Ireland’s only Fjord.  We stopped there at Lenane Hotel for lunch of lamb shank and salmon with a glass of wine.  We then drove on to Cong passing beautiful lakes regions.   Cong is a lovely village and it was the location of the Quiet Man movie with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald.  We visited the ruins of the medieval Cong Abbey.  Across from that was a bronze statue of John Wayne with Maureen O’Hara held in his arms.   While strolling around the village we stopped at Crow’s Nest for an Irish Coffee.
www.quietman-cong.com/

Salthill

Back at Rock Lodge we learned another rule about parking.  There were no more spaces at the B and B and so we decided to park on the street.  We noticed that cars were parking there and also noticed not where there were two painted lines on the street.  We parked where there was only one line.  We then walked to Salthill an area on the ocean with pubs and casinos.  We stopped in at Famous O’Connors Pub.  This pub is the most decorated pub with astonishing things hanging from every possible space, such as old gas lights, crockery, farm implements, photos, weighing scales,  chamber pots hanging from the ceiling, bed warmers on the tables, laundry drying over the fireplace, etc.  Please look at

www.galwaycitypubguide.com/o-connorsfamous-pub.html  to get the whole picture.  Of course it was the place to enjoy a Guinness and a Jameson or two.  We were also told by the bartender that we had parked correctly.

June 16, 2015 – Galway to Malahide

The Drive

It was time to head back to Dublin.  Joanne kept wondering why “Nancy” kept telling us to get off the highway when we still had a ways to travel.  Finally Joanne agreed with Nancy but when we got off the ramp she had us heading south.  We thought maybe she had another direction but at a point when she wanted us to head back west it was time to stop.  And of course we did as usual and located a pub.  We were in a small town named Clane.  We had Smithwick’s at Jones Bar and enjoyed our conversation with two of the bartenders regarding politics, a change in pensions.  Also on the television was the news about the Irish students at Berkeley in California who died when the fourth floor balcony collapsed.

Exploring Malahide

We easily found Biscayne House B and B in a residential area.  Malahide is a suburban seaside town close to Dublin and the airport.  Knowing the parking rules we put the correct amount in the meter and then walked towards the marina.  We then wandered back to town.  McGovern’s Bar looked like a good place for lunch.  Joanne had seafood chowder and Frank had the seafood plate. It was a nice warm day so we chose a bottle of Rosé.   There is Malahide Castle close by but decided to skip that one and instead just explored all the side streets.  We passed a wine store and bought a bottle of red wine with a screw cap.  Next door was a pub called Gilbert & Wright’s “The Living Room”.  It consisted of several rooms set up with couches but we sat at a tall bar table.  We stopped in for a quick beer.   For dinner that night we ate at Island View Hotel at Oscar Taylor’s. First we stepped into the pub on the first floor and ordered an Irish Coffee to help us decide what we wanted to do.  We could have eaten at the pub but decided to go upstairs to for dinner.  That was a good choice.  Frank enjoyed a lamb shank and Joanne had crab cakes.  We found that food at the hotels was a step above than the food in the pubs.

We ordered a South African Pinot Noir.

June 17, 2015 – Leaving

Flight

Returning the car at the airport went smoothly, except that Frank narrowly missing pulling into the left lane and a car was already there.  Dublin had TSA Pre-clearance.  It went very smoothly and quickly.  From the time we dropped off the car to the time we had cleared and were at our gate was only 5 minutes.  Our flight was on time and it was fairly smooth.  I even was able to point out Lynch Park in Beverly, Joanne’s home town, when we flew over it.  It was so nice to get off the plane and just walk right out, no customs, nor hassles.

Boston –

We took the “T” to Marriott Boston Copley Place.  We weren’t aware that Govt. Center was closed so we got off and went back and took another route.  After settling in, we stopped in at Legal Seafood and shared some oysters and mussels and of course a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  Next we walked to Copley Square, down Dartmouth, along Newbury and then back up to Boylston Street.

It was time for one last Guinness and Jameson, soda and lime so w stopped at Abe and Louie’s

“SLÁINTE”

The Lot – 2014 France Travel

The Lot – 2014 France Travel • May 18, 2014 – June 1, 2014

Saturday May 18 we finished packing up the house in preparation for the bathroom and kitchen renovations. That night we stayed at Island View Guest House and had a wonderful dinner. Sunday morning we left St. Thomas behind and landed in Miami for a short layover giving us enough time to have a glass of wine with a light lunch. Since we had a four hour layover in Boston we decided to walk to terminal E which was a half mile on the inside to Air France.

It was a very cramped uncomfortable flight. Luckily since we were taking a domestic flight to Toulouse we did not have to suffer through the long lines at customs. It was a pleasant flight and we enjoyed seeing the countryside from the air. After renting our car from Hertz we drove to Valroufie to Maison Les Fraysses which is in the area called the Lot department of France. The directions from Booking.com took us right to our B&B. Since it had been 28 hours after leaving St. Thomas we were ready for a home cooked dinner. And it was wonderful. It was four courses consisting of fois gras, followed by white asparagus with Belgium version of mousseline sauce. By that time I was full but then came the main course of duck. The Malbec du Lot was a perfect match. The dessert was lemon custard with strawberries, which was thankfully put into the guest refrigerator to be eaten the next day.

When we arrived we were told that we had chosen the family room but since there were no other guests that week Yvette and Paul suggested that we might like the room below with its own private entrance and terrace. We took it. Everything had just been restored a few months earlier. And around the other side was an eat-in kitchen for guests only. It had everything you could want and we could have roasted a turkey if we felt like it.

Every morning Joanne would dial into work on the computer for an hour to answer emails and help with instructions as to what needed to be done. Then breakfast began at 8:00 a.m., not something to be missed. There were meats, fois gras, a variety of cheeses, fresh fruits, granola, and yogurt and of course, fresh that morning from the bakery, croissants and French bread. There were a variety of local jams and butter. The fresh squeezed orange juice came from Spanish oranges. With a couple cups of coffee we were set to plan our day. Paul and Yvette were very helpful in suggesting places to see and things to do. They even leant us their GPS and set it in English. That turned out to be very helpful and a lot of fun as we were led down small country roads past grazing sheep. In fact we had such fun going the way of the GPS route that we named it Annie. If she told us to take a left and we took the wrong turn she would tell us to turn around if there was not alternate route. However, she usually found an alternate route that took us past villages that most people never see.

Tuesday May 20 was our first venture. We drove into the town of Cahors. Lunch is only between noon and 2:00 p.m. and so since it was 1:30 we hurriedly found a restaurant that served the plat du jour, a large pork chop and winter squash with a bottle of rose. We had a visitor’s map of the city and located a lot of the secret gardens (28 in all). At Lafayette Plaza we took a picture of a monument to those who died defending the nation from 1870-1871. It was a curious statue of a soldier partially lying on his side with his arm outstretched holding a sword. After that we stopped at DeGaulle Plaza and visited the Resistance and Liberation Museum. We found the Post Office where we used the ATM which does not charge large fees. We reached the river where the Valentre Bridge crossed over the Lot River. During the endless wars with the British this bridge was fortified with three towers. There is a legend that states the architect sold his soul in return for Old Nick to bring him all the materials he needed. When the bridge was almost completed (taking 70 years from 1308-1378) he tricked the devil by asking him to bring him some water in a sieve. The devil got his revenge by pulling out a stone and no matter how many times it was replaced it would be gone by morning. The men who restored the bridge in 1879 added the little devil high up on the middle tower with his fingertips trapped forever between the stones. It was not easy but we found the devil. That deserved a glass of wine. Across the street from the bridge was a small restaurant and the owner was quite pleased to pour us a glass of wine. And that cost $.75 (in Euros about $1.00) per glass. We continued to walk back through the center of the city through Gambretta Plaza over the Amphitheater. Gambretta helped found the Third Republic in the 1870s and fought for fair elections and free universal educations. Cahors is a university town and also capital of The Lot. Finding a nice wine store, we purchased a nice bottle of Malbec and the owner suggested the best little place to buy a baguette sandwich. That made for a delightful small dinner back at our place.

Wednesday May 21 we headed east to the town of Figeac. This is the journey that took us through all the country roads. At one time the road being only meant for one car each car ended up having to drive part way up the side to get by. We stopped at the visitor center and got a map of the town with “keys” on the buildings for identification. Since it was starting to rain we popped into a delightful little restaurant. Joanne had moussaka and Frank had Quercynoise salad. Of course a pichet of rose went perfectly well with both meals and the French bread. That lunch was just long enough for the rain to pass by. We strolled up and down the winding roads admiring the architecture which was very much like in Tuscany. We visited Musee Champollion,a tribute to Jean-Francois Champollion who deciphered the Rosetta Stone. It is a four storied building dedicated to his life and works with a piece of the Rosetta stone and a section on the history of writing with artifacts from all over the world. There was also a museum of propellers but that was closed. We did some grocery shopping and stopped for a Pastis. On the way back we stopped at an out of the way restaurant and bar. Frank refreshed with a beer and of course I had a glass of wine. We even heard some English from a few Brits in there doing the same thing.

Yesterday Paul made reservations for us to visit Gouffre de Padirac, a chasm with an underground river. Viewed from above we see a huge opening in the earth forming the entrance to the underground caverns.
There are elevators that take you down 103 meters, however we missed the second two and walked down the metal stairs. From there we took a boat ride on the subterranean river. There are thirty boats and each boat carries 11 passengers and a guide (in French). We glide slowly over a distance of 500 meters beneath the high walls and arches. We notice some ferns growing here and there. There are some snails but they are totally blind and their colors make them invisible to our eyes. We then reach the Lake of Rain, and fortunately for us it was not heavily raining.

When the boat stops we walk along a path noticing the enormous stalagmites. Further on we come to an area with a lower ceiling but the river widens and the pools form dams from calcite deposits. We then retrace our steps by walking up a staircase until we reach a small lake in the Great Dome chamber, whose impressive ceiling rises up 94 meters above the level of the river. The scalloped edges of the lake are formed by falling drops of water laden with calcium carbonate. We continue up the path passing enormous stalactites and stalagmites on all sides. Footbridges bring us back to the level of the underground river and we are ferried back to the elevators. This time we took all of them up. Being lunch time we stopped at Les Visiteurs Restaurant and enjoyed duck confit and salad with, of course, a pichet of rose. From there we drove to Rocamadour. We visited the caves with drawing of hands, horses and elk on the walls. Rocamadour is a nearly vertical village built into the cliffside. It includes seven churches and chapels. We just walked around at the top and enjoyed the view. It was getting late so we had Annie (GPS) take us back.

 

We enjoyed a lovely Friday morning breakfast with Yvette and Paul. Then we took Annie and headed east to the picturesque village of Saint­ Cirq-Lapopie. It rises up a limestone cliff-face. We parked below and walked up to the village through the winding narrow roads. We passed half-timbered buildings, along narrow cobblestone passageways and up to the fortified Church at the top. There were many small restaurants to choose from and we walked up stairs to L’Oustal. That was probably Joanne’s favorite meal, a delicious trout. And they served our pichet of rose in an ice bag. It was a pretty pink plastic container with a handle and filled partially with ice in which the wine rested. The wine stayed cold and it did not drip. We wandered around the village and Joanne bought a blue hat. On the way back down to our, car we stopped in a little place for a hot chocolate.

We continued on to Chateau de Cenevieres. Paul had told us about the 94 year old gentleman, Mr. Guy de Braquilanges, who owns the castle. He opened the door after we rang the bell and “exuberantly” welcomed us in.
In fact Frank thought that he might have been left outside. Mr. Guy de Braquilanges pointed out the courtyard and explained the Renaissance architecture. This chateau is also built above a cliff. More tourists arrived and we were welcomed to join the tour. One of the most interesting rooms was the Cabinet d’Alchemie, painted with pictures of gods and mythological heroes, such as Artemis, Orpheus, Atlas, Achilles, and Hercules. We also saw the torture chamber and next to that a secret Protestant chapel. We spoke with his son who will continue to run this chateau. Not only do they give tours but also host events and dress in the fashion of the century. This chateau has been in the family since 1793. We left and stopped in St. Gery for a glass of wine on our way back.

Today is Saturday and we thought that since we have been visiting sites to the east we would go west through the vineyards famous for Malbec wines. Our first stop was at Chateau de Mercues overlooking the Lot Valley. We walked around the gardens and took in the fabulous view. Then we entered the winery and was given a tour in English. We tasted some delicious wines both white and red and of course bought a bottle.

Joanne also found her wine Ice Bag and bought one as a present for a close friend who enjoys white wine. We stopped at the Danish Prince winery at Chateau de Cayx but they were closed since it was lunch time so we stopped nearby in Luzech and ate an enjoyable lunch of steak pomme trites. We continued along the river and drove up to Balaye for a panoramic view of the Lot vignerons. We had been driving along the Lot River on the south side of the river stopping at various wineries but they were all closed on the weekend so we headed back on the north side of the river. We stopped in the lovely town of Puy l’Eveque where we passed an old train tunnel. It was now a store selling wines. We had fun trying to communicate with an elderly lady who spoke no English. We finally figured it out after a lot of laughs that if we had our own jug she could have filled it up like at a gas station. She gave us a tasting glass of Malbec and then sold us that bottle at a discounted amount. It was 6.70 Euros and she sold it to us for 5.00 Euros. We stopped in Cahors at Cocoon, near one of the secret gardens, and relaxed with a glass of pastis. It was getting cool and near the time when they start cooking so we moved inside for a pichet of vin rouge and an appetizer. A young man arrived and sat at the piano next to our table and started playing old Elton John music. It was then time to head back to our home.


Sunday we let Annie take us to Pech Merle. “In the lower third of France is a southern Latin culture called langue d’oc or occitan. Pech is the French writing of the occitan word pueg which means: a hill.” The Pech Merle cave is a large cave with wall drawings of animals, such as horses, bison and mammoths dating back possibly 20,000 years. The red color was iron oxide and the black was manganese oxide. There were also footprints of a young lad going in different directions, a stenciled hand print in red, a dotted horse and cave pearls. The water falls from an opening in the ceiling during heavy rainfalls. This intermittent waterfall carries with it sand and gravels. When these are trapped in small cavities in the pool, they are coated with calcite while they are polished by the action of the running water. The tours consist of no more than twenty visitors at a time. We are guided through seven halls where the lights are turned on and off as we enter and exit each area. We got there a little bit early and so bought a light lunch at the concession stand. After the tour we visited the museum.

 

Since it was still early we decided to continue in this easterly direction along the Cele river. There was a crazy museum that we had to stop at. The owner collects junk and makes some very bizarre objects from them. We stopped at the lovely village of Marcilhac-sur- Cele and walked past the ruins of the Abbey which was built in the 10th century and thrived until the Hundred Years War in 1356. We also strolled up and down the narrow roads. Seeing a restaurant called Bar Restaurant Des Tourists we had to stop in at the outdoor cafe. We sipped on a nice rose and asked the owner if she knew the name of the flowers on our table, they looked like large blue bells. It wasn’t that important but she asked everyone around what it
could be. One lady spoke English and she was possibly the daughter, but it was never identified. Annie led us home and we ate a light meal in the guest kitchen.

Monday morning was cold and rainy. We decided to head southwest and set Annie to take us to Castlenau Montratier. In the central plaza we found a couple of restaurants and stopped in at Le Bardouquet. Frank tried the Grimbergen Red beer which was red and tasted like there might have been a little red wine mixed in. For the wine with dinner we selected Hautmontlong which was a delightful white wine and it went very nicely with my hake and even with Frank’s lamb chops. When we left the restaurant it had stopped raining so we walked up to the church that had domes instead of spires. On the way home we stopped in at Cahors where our new Belgian tour director acquaintance was every afternoon. We had fun looking up the Virgin Islands on the internet. Paul and Yvette asked if we would like to have dinner at Les Maison Fraysses that evening. There was a couple from Montreal arriving and thought we might all have an enjoyable meal together. And we did.

Tuesday we drove again west along the Lot River. We stopped for lunch at Puy l’Eveque. Frank ate ham and lentil stew and I ate a zucchini quiche and of course our pichet of rose complimented both meals. After we finished our meal we walked up to the central plaza. It had been market day but all the stalls were being taken down so we just roamed around the village. After wandering up and down this hilly village we drove on to visit Chateau de Bonaquil. This chateau was a fortified castle built in the 13th century on a steep rocky promontory. Berenger de Roquefeuil (1448-1530) spent thirty years equipping it with a barbican (thick walled main entrance), several towers, a chicane (passage and trap between terrace and tower), seven drawbridges, a casemate (long underground corridor), cannon ports and caponiere (defense work) with loopholes which provided a more incisive defense than the moats. The castle was altered again in the second half of the 18th century by Marguerite de Fumel. She created an esplanade, got rid of the drawbridges and fitted out the lord’s apartments according to the style of the times. She died just before the French Revolution. Then a law of 1793 ordered the leveling of the dwellings down to the heights of the main buildings and the dismantlement of the towers.

The place was ransacked and left to ruin. We spent about an hour walking through the barbican, the main entrance, with a map showing us the pigeon house, the lower courtyard, the bakery, the spiral vault, the long underground corridor, the great tower, the kitchens, the Great Hall and other rooms and terraces. There was a little bar and restaurant located on our way back down to the car and so we stopped in for wine for Joanne and a Leffe beer for Frank.
We slowly drove back stopping to walk around the towns of Frayssinet-de­ galat and Thedirac. It was like these towns were deserted, lovely but we never saw any people. Once again we stopped in Cahors at Vin Bar for a glass of wine. We purchased a bottle of Malbec and a sandwich to take back to our place for a light meal in our guest kitchen.

On Wednesday we had enjoyable company for breakfast, friends of Paul and Yvette from Belgium. They were going biking along the vineyards and we decided to head southeast. We stopped in Aujols where we discovered the lavoirs around a pond. These were slanting v-shaped stone structures where each woman would stand on the higher end facing each other so they could converse while scrubbing the clothes. The next stop was in Laburgade where we came across a field with about ten stone wells very close to each other. Each one had a stone cover and a door with a lock on it. We stopped in Lalbenque for lunch at Le Bistronome and ate a fabulous veal stew with carrots and of course a pichet of rose.

  

Next we visited Phosphatiere du Cloup D’Aural. There was a farmer who had better crops than his neighbors. It was discovered that his farm was built over caves of phosphate. The caves were then mined. We took a guided tour past the area where the mines were set up with the rail tracks for transporting the phosphate. We descended into the caves and noted the tropical flora and fossil bones. We continued east until we reached Limogne-en-Quercy where we took a rest at a cafe in the center of town and sipped on a Pastis. Since it was getting late we headed back to Cahors to buy a bottle of Malbec and a sandwich for our picnic at home.

Today we headed out of The Lot northwest to Dordogne. Still in The Lot we stopped at Gourdon, a pleasant little village set on a hill that can be seen from miles around. It was Ascension Day and people were just leaving St. Pierre’s Church. We wandered through some of the narrow streets with medieval houses and shops below the church and then stopped for a glass of Malbec before continuing. The bathroom was down a set of rickety wooden stairs in a dirt floored basement! It was very clean however.

Crossing into the Dordogne department we stopped at Sarlat-la-Caneda and got lucky with finding a place to park on one of the side streets. Being a holiday there was a big exposition in the central plaza with wandering musicians. There were very many restaurants to choose from and we found one with an empty table outside. Joanne had a yummy fish and Frank had duck confit and of course a pichet of wine and each dinner was only 11Euros which included the wine. We finally met some Americans at the table next to us. They were from New Jersey. We joined the crowds and walked down the Rue de la Republic through the center admiring all the fresh foods, meats, cheeses, fois gras, nuts, etc.

We did not have time to do any sightseeing of this beautiful town, so we found our car and headed back over the Dordogne River and stopped at the village of Domme. The town is a bastide (fortified town laid out according to law) with honey colored stone and brown roof tiled buildings high up on a hill with fortified walls and gateways into the town. We were again lucky with finding a parking place and then walked up the hill and the stairs into the main square. We stopped at Bar le Medieval and Frank had a beer and of course Joanne had a glass of rose while watching the tourist train and many motorcycles passing through. We walked up the main street, found a wine shop and bought a bottle of Chateau Court-Les-Muts 2011. At the top of the town is a park area with a panoramic view of the Dordogne Valley. We stopped at Cahors to have a drink with the Belgian tour guide and to purchase some cheese at Les Halles.

Being our last day at Maison Les Fraysses we took it easy. After breakfast we strolled around the neighborhood streets. We made ourselves a picnic lunch with our bottle of white wine, our Pyrenee Vache cheese and fresh bread on our terrace under the open umbrella. It was a very enjoyable warm sunny day. At 5:30 we drove into Cahors. We met the Belgian tour guide in Bar du Centre, stopped at the bar where the young men are always playing cards for a wine and then went to our favorite bar/restaurant Vin Bar D’Ousil. Joanne ordered coq au vin and Frank ordered canard with cepes. They were both delicious and were complimented by a bottle of Cahors Malbec.

Today is Saturday and we are leaving our new friends Yvette and Paul and driving to Toulouse. Some buildings in the city reminded us of the buildings in Paris but otherwise it was not a pretty city. The Saint Sernin Basilica was majestic, an impressive sight. We walked around a little and stopped in at Taverna Bavaroise for lunch. We each ordered the plat du jour of fish, rose and coffee with dessert for a total of 29.20 Euros. Toulouse is a very confusing town to navigate. The airport is called Bagnac but there is also a town called Bagnac and the directions did not say whether we were headed to the airport or not but we finally found it.

What we did not find was a gas station so we brought the car back nearly empty. We had reservations at Radisson Blu and it was in walking distance. After a brief rest we went to the bar and had some white wine for Joanne and draft beer for Frank and ordered some appetizers and went to bed early.
Sunday morning we awoke at 3:00 a.m. and took a shuttle to the airport for a 6:00 a.m. flight to Amsterdam on KLM. Schiphol airport was very confusing. There was no sign to tell you what gate we needed to get to. We finally found an information booth to help us. Inside our terminal the airport is like a big shopping mall. And it was crowded. We finally found an Irish pub for a beer and a Bloody Mary while waiting to board. We took Delta to Boston. That was the most pleasant flight. The food and drinks were good and the seats were comfortable. We arrived in Boston at 12:30.

WHAT AN UNFORGETABLE TWO WEEKS IN FRANCE!!

Paul and Yvette Geerts-Baeten Maison Les Fraysses
Les Fraysses Constans 46090 Valroufie