We started our spring travel to France in Marseille, which is not in Vaucluse Department of France. We stayed for a couple of days to visit two museums that we missed seeing previously before taking the train to the Vaucluse Department where our village is located.

The first day we visited Mucem, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Culture. This museum is spread across three sites.  The Saint Jean Fort is at the entrance of the harbor being an integral part of Mucem.  It was constructed in the 16th century for military defense.  There is free access for exploring the outdoor spaces capturing scenic views of Marseille harbor and the surrounding hills. To see the exhibitions in the other sites payment of a small fee is required, well worth it.  There is also a garden section, including a variety of herbs. A footbridge crosses over to a more recent building.  Here there are two places of exhibitions, one showing the steps of Mediterranean civilizations, the second one is for temporary exhibitions.  There is also a panoramic restaurant where we enjoyed a delightful lunch.  The third site houses the conservation and resource center.  Finally, there is another footbridge that crosses over to the Panier district.

The next day we visited the Marseille History Museum.  The building is located surrounding an archeological site.  There are exhibitions displaying artifacts found at the site stemming from the then Greek and Roman city. Walking through this museum is like walking through a time machine exhibited by artifacts, multi-media displays. 3-D reconstructions and sound scopes.  Outside one can see an exoskeleton of a Greek and Roman boat with further displays inside showing how the boats were constructed.  Throughout the museum traces the history from prehistoric occupations to current occupations. For more photos and information: https://en.martigues-tourisme.com/history-museum-of-marseille.html

Vaucluse Visits

L’Isle sur la Sorgue & Avignon

After two days of learning more about Marseille we boarded the train to our village, L’Isle sur la Sorgue in Vaucluse Department.  After the rains during the winter, we were pleased to see the water level on the canals had risen, no longer the way we saw it last fall after years of drought.  The trees were sprouting new bright green leaves and there were spring flowers all around, including fields of poppies, even alongside the train tracks, and especially tall purple irises, my favorite flower.  Meanwhile we were still waiting for our suitcases that had taken their own journey through England and Norway before arriving in France.  They were finally delivered ten days later and dropped off at a supermarket.  It was a lovely day so we enjoyed our one mile walk to retrieve them!

We received notice that we needed to go to the Préfecture in Avignon to receive the “residence card” that we applied for to stay in France for up to a year preferably more than 183 days. We always enjoy staying in Avignon and we took an extra day to visit familiar places.  It is a nice walk to the Prefecture and on our way back with our new cards we stopped at Les Halles.  Les Halles is a huge indoor market selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats, pastries, wines, cheeses, etc. The doors had just opened and we decided it was time for a cup of coffee. Just as we walked in, we noticed over to our right a small café.  While sipping our coffee we proudly showed the two young ladies our new cards. One of the ladies was the owner and she opened a bottle of champagne for the four of us to celebrate.  There is nothing like coffee and champagne at 10:30 in the morning!!

Le Thor

Back in our apartment in L’Isle we decided to take a bus trip to Le Thor.  This is a smaller village, just a 15-minute bus ride to get there.  We got off at the Hotel de Ville (town hall), a short walk to the town center. It was Saturday and market day, so we strolled past all the different stalls selling fresh foods, cooked foods, clothing, cleaning supplies and works by the local artists.  I found a small purse that I had been looking for and can now stop looking.  We wandered around town toward the Notre Dame du Lac Church just as mass ended.  The church bells loudly pealed for at least 5 minutes.  The church dates to the 12th century.  It is Romanesque with Gothic vaults, the “oldest in Provence”.  We walked past the Donzabas Gate with the town’s clock and an iron bell tower.Wandering further we came to a bridge crossing the Sorgue River.  There were steps going down to a small park with a picnic bench on the bank of the river.  We will return another time to enjoy a peaceful picnic listening to the flowing river.There are many hiking trails leading from this town.  One of them leads to Thouzan Castle, and to the Grotte de Thouzon.  This is a natural underground cave with stalactites and listed as the only cave in Vaucluse department developed for tourism.  We will return to discover this destination.  For lunch we stopped at Café Rosa Bonheur and recommend it for aperitifs and some delicious food. There are other restaurants, but we can only try one at a time.

Fontaine de Vaucluse

L’Isle sur la Sorgue is in the Vaucluse Department of Provence, France. When a friend came to visit, we decided to visit some of the other villages and sites in this department.  In the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse, we followed the path leading to the source of the Sorgue river.  This river runs through many villages, and it is the source of the canals surrounding L’Isle sur la Sorgue. We followed the path upstream to the pool, a deep water spring from the underground network of caves.  We listened and watched as the water roared and bubbled over the boulders as it descended to the village. To learn more about the caves we took the Underground World Tour (Musée du Monde Souterrain).  Our guide showed photos and graphs of the exploration of the caves.  There were divers, including Jacques Cousteau who after three tries reached 104 meters, a German diver reached 205 meters. The Speleological Society continued the research, using an instrument called Sorgonaute.  This allowed exploration of various caves.  We were led through the reconstructed caves of the underground river through caves showing frescoes of prehistoric drawings on the walls of animals, and also handprints painted on the walls.  The tour ended with a visit to a large room displaying showcases of stalactites collected in France by Norbert Casteret over a 50-year period.  There were 400 hundred stalactites of different shapes and sizes that he collected in limestone caves, included some that looked like delicate fragile needles that managed to survive transportation.  It was an amazing display.  It was time for a delightful lunch alongside the river and time to walk around this lovely village.

Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque

A short drive to the north of Gordes is the Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque.  This Abbaye is only one of the three Provençal abbeys in the Cistercian style of the Romanesque period.  It was founded in1148 by the Cistercian monks.  Today there is still a community of monks following the rules of Saint Benedict in this abbey.  The architecture of the church is in the shape of a cross.  We took a self-guided tour through the rooms and the garden in the courtyard.The “Church” is visited four times during the day for worship.  We admired the simplicity of the stain-glassed windows, with only a few colored panes of glass to let in pure light. There are symbols inscribed in the architecture for understanding the rules of Saint Benedict.The “Warmer” is the only room that has heat, heated by a large fireplace in the center of the room.  The only other heat is from the kitchen.  Here is where the monks used it for reading, meditation and coping manuscripts.  Today it is notably used for the Easter vigil.

The “Cloister” is the center of the abbey.  It has four galleries with no outside view except for facing the center courtyard garden.  Each gallery has a specific role.  The east gallery is reserved for spiritual activities.  The north gallery is where the works of the abbey is located, and locked up at the end of the day.  The west gallery is for bodily functions such as washing hands before meals.  The south gallery is a passageway and used for processions.The “Chapter” is the meeting room used every evening.  A chapter of Saint Benedict’s rule is read by the Father Abbot followed by discussions of community life.

Since the Rule requires silence by the monks, silence is requested throughout the visit.  We enjoyed the idyllic setting. We only wished we could have seen the lavender fields around this setting. They were soon to be in full blossom.


Beaumes-de-Venise is just north of Carpentras along the wine route.  It is a village on the hillside at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmaril, a small chain of mountains near Mont Ventoux. This gives this village protection from the Mistral winds.  Baumes, also named Balmes in the Provençal language, are caves seen in the hills.  There are many walking, biking and hiking paths to discover the crops grown in the terraces, vineyards, an olive mill and La Chapelle Notre-Dame.  Today we used a map from the Office of Tourism to discover the historical center in the Place de L’Église.  Being Market Day, we browsed the stands selling local foods and handcrafts.  The church bells then alerted us that it was noon and so we found a nice restaurant across from the church L’eglise Saint Nazaire, a 16th century church in the center of the square. Leaving the restaurant we followed the map while walking through hidden passageways and wandering narrow streets and alleys.  We came to Portail Neuf, an entrance to the house of the Lord of Beaumes. Because he wanted to have easier access to his chateau, he had a gate opened into the rampart wall. There is a staircase to the right that leads you up the winding streets to an open-air theater.  However, all that remains are a few walls. Proceeding back down through some alleys we stopped at Place de la Liberté which was surrounded by colorful houses, quite picturesque.  At one time the attics were used to raise silkworms!  Further on we passed under the Porte de la Touve.  This door was opened in the ramparts from1775 to 1777.  “Touvo” is the Provençal word for the pipe that drained the water from the olive pit mill.  We are now back in the village center where we look at a fountain, La Fontaine de Mascarons, dated 1639. It is in the shape of a big conch shell with four heads that spill out water.  However, today there was no water.  Before leaving we stopped at a wine cellar on Rue Raspail to taste the ‘famous’ Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.  This is a natural sweet wine therefore not too sweet. The Tradition vintage is recommended as an aperitif and the Bois Dore vintage is recommended to drink with an entree.  Of course we purchased a bottle.  Beaume-de-Venise is also known for its excellent Côtes du Rhone red wine.  As we were now tired, we slowly drove back to L’Isle taking the slower, less traveled roads through the countryside.

Thouzon Caves – Le Thor

We returned to Le Thor this time by car.  Having a friend with us, we strolled through the Donbas gate noting the town clock and campanile and visited the  Notre-Dame-du-Lac church looking up at the Gothic vaults in the nave.  We also strolled past the bridge over the Sorgue River and walked down to the small Island underneath enjoying the sounds of the birds and the flowing river.  There had been many water wheels which provided the power of flour, paper, silk and sawmills. There is still one water wheel that was restored in 2012.  In the 19th century there were madder production factories.  Madder is a root that when ground and powdered was used to dye the pants of the French army soldiers.  After lunch with some chilled rosé wine, we drove 1.5 km to the Thouzon Caves discovered in 1902.  We took the tour and were guided along a path, once an underground river, 230 meters to the gallery. The guide pointed to an oak root that had found its way through 10 meters of limestone.  Also, we saw stalactites and some that were very thin and hollow called macaronis.  One that he pointed to was 1.30 meters (51 inches) and since stalactites grow only 13 cm every 100 years this one was 13,000 years old.  The water originally flowing dried up the limestone and left a ceiling of hard grey rock called flint.  We continued our tour viewing more stalactites of many shapes and colors, roots, pools and dams.  At the end there is a well (12 meters deep) and the last tunnel (15 meters long) that is not accessible to tourists while awaiting more exploration.  For further information and photos and at the end there is a short film of the tour (in French) visit www.grottes-thouzon.com

There are many walking and cycling tours from the Le Thor village.  Follow and enjoy views of Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux and the lavender fields (in blossom in July).

2024 Paris Olympic Torch Relay

L’Isle sur la Sorgue was selected to host the passage of the Olympic torch relay on May 19.  The center of L’Isle is an island and the route followed the roads alongside the canals that circle the center of the city.  People were lined up on the sides of the roads waving and cheering as that flame passed by.  Everyone was in a joyous mood.  We were thrilled to be there among all those cheering.

2023 Autumn in France

Dark Caves to Bright Lights

Our autumn in France started with a few days in Marseille.  We went under the sea to mysterious caves.  Actually we took a tour at Cosquer, a replica of the caves discovered by Henri Cosquer in 1985, 37 meters beneath sea level in the Mediterranean Sea along the Calanques.  This is an area between Marseille and Cassis with rocky inlets and towering limestone cliffs.  At the base of these cliffs Cosquer found connecting caves with walls covered with handprints, engravings, tools and drawings of bisons, horses, penquins and other animals from approximately 30,000 years ago. The caves have been authenticated, and because of the rising sea they may no longer be available to enter.  By using 3D maps they have been replicated for us to learn about life at that time.

The 35-minute exploration tour begins by entering a submersible to descend (by elevator) to the caves.  We are provided with an audio guide while seated on exploratory vehicles which describes in each cave the artifacts on the walls lighted as we proceed through the caves.  The building consists of three levels, the under the sea for the tour and the above two levels for learning about the life of that period.  There are life sized stuffed animals, digital and audiovisual diagrams showing the water levels then and now reflecting the climate changes, and the means of transportation that were used. There is also a restaurant and a store for purchasing memorabilia.


The next day we stayed above ground and visited the Marseille Soap Museum.  The soaps are made with 72% olive oil.  The current location was once a King’s arsenal.  You will discover by representations, photographs and diagrams of the original making of soap.  There is also a workshop with a demonstration of the steps and machines used. The original soap was pure with no added scents.  The same as what Cleopatra was using, the color of olive oil.  Unappealing for today’s tourist market, but the original green is still available Afterwards you can actually make your own bar of soap.  Then go to the smelling station and test your sense of smell and see if you tell if the soap contains lavender, roses, lilac, vermilion, etc.  Next door is a store for purchasing your favorite soaps and other related items.

This autumn we decided to extend our stay in our village L’Isle sur la Sorgue until mid-December to enjoy some of the Christmas festivities and customs.  November 24 is the opening date of the Christmas market, set up at the Public Garden along the canal.  The market consists of about 20 “chalets” some displaying the artisans’ handicrafts, and other chalets for purchasing refreshments including hot soups, cheeses, burgers, oysters, and of course hot and cold drinks.  We bought a cone full of freshly roasted chestnuts – YUM! A tall tree is made out of sparkling blue and clear triangles topped with a glittering snowflake-like star and can even be seen from across the canal.  There is also a chalet where children can meet and have a photo with Père Noel (Santa).  In the center is a handmade replica of the village.  The santons (little saints) are small painted figurines that represent the likeness of the gardener, carpenter, baker, farmer, butcher and good friends, and are represented throughout the Provençal village scene.

As the weather was getting colder we were welcomed to order a glass of vin chaud (hot wine) in many of the bistros as we strolled around taking photos of the beautifully decorated store fronts.  Also, there were bright lights strung overhead on the streets and even strung across the canal. At the esplanade Robert Vasse there is a lighted archway to view the canal lights and next to it is a brightly colored mailbox for the children to deposit their letters to Père Noel.

On December 9 (first Saturday of December) the Fête de Lumiere (festival of lights) occurs.  There are band parades roving though the village with batucada (a percussive type of Samba music that is fast paced and repetitive, and noisy!) and other styles of music.  Following along with the bands are stilt walkers dressed like angels. And finally there is a light show illuminating the sky.

We departed two days later but were glad we stayed and enjoyed all the en‘lightening’ activities.

2023 Spring Travel Adventure to NIMES & PORTUGAL


Frank and Joanne started their spring trip to France on Wednesday March 22, 2023 to stay in our apartment in L’Isle sur la Sorgue with a visit to Portugal on our way home.  However, what seemed to be a carefully planned journey from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands through JFK New York and Madrid, Spain arriving in Marseille on March 25, 2023, suddenly changed into an adventure trip necessitating cunning and innovation. While finishing our packing before leaving for the airport Joanne received a message from Google that our flight from Madrid to Marseille was canceled.  Fortunately, and with a call to American Airlines, we now had a flight from JFK to Barcelona Spain and then on to Marseille.  Relaxing at JFK we received a new notice that our flight from Barcelona had been canceled.  Searching on our cell phones for alternatives we were able to make train reservations from Barcelona to Marseille. It appeared that all flights in France were canceled because of a general strike.  At Barcelona airport we found out only to learn that the train station we needed was a taxi ride away. So off we went in a taxi to meet our train which would take us to Nîmes, France and then change trains after a two-hour layover to Marseille a total of 7.5 hours.  After passing halfway to Nîmes we received yet another cancellation where we would need to disembark in Nîmes.  Back on our cell phones we searched to see if there was a train that would take us to our village, L’Isle sur la Sorgue on Saturday and when that checked out we found a hotel in Nîmes for two nights.  Apparently, it was more than just an airline strike but also affected trains and taxis, buses and disgustingly, the garbage pickups.  By the time we got off the train our cell phone batteries were used up.  Joanne suggested we stop at Hotel Ibis, next to the stain station, and ask for directions to the hotel we had booked from our now dead phones.  The girl at the reception desk was pleasant and printed out a map with a walking route of 15 minutes.  Phew, we needed a glass of rosé and there just happened to be a Tabac across the street where we knew we could order a cold glassful. Two Rose’s…. We gave her 10 euros and got 5+ euros change back! Our last food and drink had been on the airplane from JFK to Barcelona! That gave us the energy to walk up a beautiful tree-lined avenue.  The weather was delightful, and we passed a lovely park and then a Roman Amphitheatre (Arena) where concerts and bullfights are still held.  Built in the first century shortly after the building of the Colosseum of Rome, it is one of the best amphitheaters in the world.  Our hotel was located meters from the Arena, combining two 17th and 18th century mansions. Hotel L’Amphitheatre is a charming boutique hotel, and our room had a balcony overlooking a town square.  From there we were able to cancel our hotel In Marseille and they were very understanding because of the strikes.  It was exactly 24 hours from the hour when we left our home to the time, we checked in at the hotel in Nîmes!!

The next day we spent exploring the sites, first passing by the Clock Tower, built in 1470, which replaced the bell ringer.  This city is well known for its monuments from the Roman Empire, such as the Amphitheatre and Maison Carrée.  Maison Carrée is an ancient Roman Temple over 2,000 years old, and probably the best-preserved Roman temple in the world.  The immense majestic temple is made of limestone with 30 Corinthian columns standing 9 meters (30feet) tall.

We then walked to the Jardins de la Fontaine.  The gardens cover 15 hectares (37 acres) and are some of the first public gardens in Europe.  We strolled along the symmetrical paths, rows of trees of a variety of species, stopping at the Temple of Diana, a 1st century building, and followed paved paths up to the top to the Tour Magne.  This Tour is an 18-meter watch tower, part of the Roman City wall from the Augustinian era.  We opted out of climbing up 140 stairs to the top where we would have been awed by the panoramic view of the city and surroundings.  It was used as a sanctuary and to protect the town by monitoring travelers.  There is a lot more history of the city that can be learned by visiting Musée du Vieux Nîmes, maybe when we return.  Also, visit the nearby Pont du Gard is recommended.

Amphitheater                                            Mason Carree

Jardin de la Fontaine                                                        Tour Magne

Frank and Joanne finally arrived at L’Isle sur la Sorgue the next day!!

As always we enjoyed our stay in Isle making new friends and exploring the island.  This time we also visited Brun de Vian-Tiran. Since 1808, this factory, has been creating wool fabrics.  Included in the factory are workshops, a museum and a boutique. There is a self-guided tour through the museum where you discover the wools: Merino, Mohair and Cashmere and the fabric creations of weaving them  through the displays following the steps of spinning, weaving and finishing.


We left L’Isle sur la Sorgue by train to Marseille and had enjoyable flights from Marseille through Madrid and on to Porto, Portugal.  While waiting in line to board our flight from Madrid to Porto one of the passengers next to us opened up his guitar case and started playing songs he sang in French.  He was on his way from Morocco to Paris.  The couple in front of us spoke Spanish and a little French, of course we spoke neither, but we all joined him and had a lot of laughs.

We rented a lovely one-bedroom apartment in Porto on Avenue Gustav Eiffel overlooking the Douro River and the Pont Dom Luis I (bridge) connecting Porto and the town of Vila Nova de Gaia.  The bridge was designed by a protégé of Gustav Eiffel, known for the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It rises 150 feet above the river spanning across the 500-foot Douro.  Because of its age the top level is now restricted to only trams and foot traffic.  Not thrilled with looking down at the height to the river we chose to traverse on the lower level for vehicles and pedestrians.

Our first night we got acquainted with the city by meandering along the river past the bridge to an area known as Ribeira.  It was once a working port where riverboats off-loaded their wine barrels.  You can still see some of these boats in the harbor. You can also take one of the many tour boats for a trip on the river.  Lining the riverfront are restaurants and souvenir shops.

The next day was a self-guided leisurely walk from Lower to Upper Porto.  We passed Henry the Navigator’s house.  Even though he wasn’t a navigator he sponsored sea voyages for Portugal’s exploration of the north of Africa, the Canary Islands and Madeira.  He started a school of navigation in the southwestern tip of Portugal.  Passing the Stock Exchange Palace, a huge building for commerce, we reached the Sao Bento train station and were in awe of the hand-painted blue tiles in the main hall.  The tiles show historical facts of wars and battles, and others related to the folk scenes of marriage and the arrival of trains which are seen in the multi-colored tiles across the top of the walls. Continuing our tour we stopped at the Clérigos Tower.  This was built on the highest ground of Porto and can be seen from everywhere in Porto and from across the Douro River in Gaia.  It was time to rest now that we had reached the top of the Upper city. A glass of wine with a couple bacalao cakes, salted codfish cakes, we were ready to continue on our journey.  We wandered through the Jardim of Cordoaria and around the university through the Praca de Lisboa which is actually a park built over a parking garage.  Across from here is the Lello Bookstore, built in 1906 with an interior design that inspired J.K. Rowling who had lived In Porto for a year.  Because of the Harry Potter connection there are long lines awaiting entrance, so we continued on our way to Lower Porto.  From the Cathedral Square at the Porto Cathedral we took in the vista of the old town below.  Hiking down the twisting roads and stairs our feet needed a rest and there was a lovely small restaurant (4 tables) and one was empty.  It was now time to taste some Port wines.  Across the Douro River in the city of Gaia there are Port Wine Lodges (houses) for tasting with tours or the warehouses, and museums showing the process of making Port wine.  Today, however, we stopped at a small Port wine store which offered a tasting of 6 varieties or Port.  That was quite an enjoyable learning experience.  As we were purchasing a bottle of Rosé Port Joanne picked up a business card with the name of the restaurant À Bolina Bar, which is next door to our apartment.  Last night we ate there and were served a tasty variety of  Portuguese cold appetizers (pesticos).  The restaurant was charming and so were the helpful and pleasant wait staff. When Joanne mentioned that to the owner of this store she told us that it is her husband’s restaurant!  We still had some time to cross the bridge to Gaia and stopped for a tapas dinner and of course a glass of wine. On our return to our apartment we passed a square where a group of musicians were setting up and started playing some good oldies rock music.  Being well Port fortified we “oldies” showed them how to dance to great applause!!!

We still had one last day and chose to explore Vila Nova de Gaia.  Every morning before setting our we ate breakfast at a small local restaurant next door.  And every morning we ordered Pastel de Nata, a custard filled flaky pastry, 2 cups of Portuguese strong coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice.  Off we went crossing the lower level of the bridge and the plan was to go straight up the hill and cross over to Taylor’s Port Wine Lodge, or so we thought.  After almost an hour we realized our mistake and started back down through winding streets.  That effort required a refreshment break.  Then we continued our mission crisscrossing streets until we found Taylor’s Fladgate Port Wine, one of the oldest of the Port lodges (houses).  We first stepped into the lovely garden to sample and compare a 10-year-old Tawny Port with a 20-year-old Tawny Port.  It was also served with some cheese and crackers and entertained by a roving peacock.

Then it started to rain so went inside and took a one-hour self-audio-guided tour of the warehouse through the 300-year-old cellars, where the wines are aging in barrels then through the innovative museum.  The tour included a tasting of 2 Ports of your choice.  Fortunately, the rain was just ending when we left.  Back down on the waterfront we browsed the merchandise being sold, and bought  a leather belt, sized and ready to wear.

Our last day we crossed back over the bridge and walked along the Douro under the monastery and away from the touristy part of the city.  It was lazy day with no agenda, so we just meandered between Gaia and Porto.

Hand painted tiles inside Sao Bento train station,
Porto view with Clérigos Tower

    Breakfast restaurant, breakfast with pastel de nata and Port wine tasting

View of Vila Nova de Gaia where the wine lodges are while on a tour cruise.


Arganil is a lovely town inland from Coimbra.  We left Porto by train to Coimbra and from there a taxi east to Arganil to visit some friends, hadn’t seen in 40 years. They have been living here in this town in Portugal for 30 years.  We had a lovely three days catching up on old times together and our lives since that time.  Our friends drove us around pointing out the pine forests, eucalyptus copses, rivers and other physical features.  It was a drizzling three days, but we enjoyed our time visiting and tasting some delicious meals. Then they drove us back to Coimbra where we had one more lunch together and then on to our hotel.


Hotel Vitoria is in an excellent location between the Mondego River and the center of the city, and near the train station.  Like Porto there is a lower city and  the upper city which is mainly where the Coimbra University is located.  To get oriented we strolled along our street to the main square called Largo de Portagem on the river.  In the square is a statue of the prime minister who  in 1834 closed the monasteries and ended the ruling by the church. It is a lovely square with many open cafés.  This is the start of the main shopping district of lower town.       The next day we walked the length of the main shopping district stopping at a pastry café for a pastel de nata and coffee.  The street’s surface is made up of small black and small white squares, sometimes in a special design.  We took photos of the interesting buildings along the street which led to the Church of Santa Cruz, facing a large open square.  This monastery is a National Monument in Coimbra because the first two kings of Portugal are buried inside. Their tombs are located on either side of the alter in the main chapel.  The organ with 4,000 pipes is awesome with attached horizontal trumpets.   Around the rear of the church is the Jardim de Manga (Garden of the Sleeve).  It is arranged so that the center fountain symbolizes the source of life and four small chapels surrounded by small rectangular pools symbolizes the facets of life.

Our next stop was a walk through the Mercado Municipal, selling fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, cheeses and small restaurants.  Next to this market was a funicular that would take us up to the upper town and the University.  Instead, we decided to walk up the hill along a tree lined boulevard.  We came to the entrance gate to the Jardim Botanica (Botanical Garden) dating back to 1772 and covering 50 acres, the largest in Portugal.  Meandering the pathways we enjoyed the green cool spaces, various rare and exotic plants (some 1,200), an ornate stone fountain, the greenhouse, birds and squirrels, a bamboo forest and variety of trees.  Slowly this led us down to lower town.  Hot and tired we were ready for a frosty beer and a cool white wine, Vinho Verde, a green, actually white, wine with a few bubbles made in the north of Portugal.

A day would not be complete without listening to some Fado music. This is Portugal’s traditional music.  In Lisbon it is sung by females, in Coimbra it is mostly sung by University male students performed with the traditional guitar of Coimbra.  The lyrics have themes of loss, longing and sadness, hardships of life and remembrances of better times.  The music is based more on the structure than on the lyrics.  But in Coimbra the music is more of optimism and hope.  We stopped in at Pelisqueira Portuguesa Restaurante Casa de Fados nearby to our hotel. We were welcomed and invited in by Eva to enjoy the music even though we were only going to order some wine, not dinner.  The musician (who was blind) played and sang and then Eva sang a song, followed by a female diner who sang another one.  It felt like being with a family and we were included.  The staff and warm environment were so wonderful we went back the next night for dinner and to listen to other Fado musicians.

Our last day in Coimbra we decided to just stroll along the lower town enjoying the atmosphere of the city and also the friendliness of the residents.  We took photos of places of interest we had passed by such as the gate to the upper level to the University, the colorful buildings, the musicians and one little dog in particular.  The dog was sitting on a small chair in front of his master who was playing an instrument.  There was a plastic cup with a string attached and the dog was holding onto the cup’s string with his mouth accepting donations.  Of course, we donated.  We then decided to cross the Mondego River for a view of the boats and also to capture a memory of the sight of Coimbra.  It was a relaxing day.  And to take home some special memories Joanne purchased a purse made from cork trees, a Portuguese specialty, and a cashmere scarf which will be useful when we will be back in France during November and December.

Largo de Portagem, Coimbra Main Square, Prime Minister Statue

Church of Santa Cruz and Organ with 4,000 pipes and horizontal trumpets

Jardim de Manga Chapels                                   Botanical Garden

Donations for Me?                         Street Design                            Street View

Park by Lisbon Airport Hotel

Our last day in Portugal was spent at an airport hotel in Lisbon before our departure back to the United States. We were pleasantly surprised by a beautiful garden park bordering the hotel.  The day was spent walking through the park watching boaters rowing on the small lake with an island in the center, watching paddle ball in the many courts, and enjoying a relaxing lunch at a Tapas restaurant overlooking the lake.  Another time it would be nice to plan a visit to Lisbon and other areas of Portugal.  We are glad to have such wonderful memories of Porto, Arginal and Coimbra.

We will never forget listening to Fado music and the musicians!

Casa de Fado                                                  Fado Musician & Eva

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.


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

View some videos from our trip here.

2022 Spring in Europe – MARSEILLE, FRANCE


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

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


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


2022 Spring in Europe – L’ISLE SUR LA SORGUE


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

2022 Spring in Europe – STRASBOURG, FRANCE


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

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

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

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


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


2022 Spring in Europe – COLMAR, FRANCE


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

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


2022 Spring in Europe – BRUGES, BELGIUM


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


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

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

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


2022 Spring in Europe – BRUSSELS, BELGIUM


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

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

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