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Adieu Paris!!!

 

It’s now time to leave Paris…. it’s been a great couple of days and the weather has been magnifique!  I’m sitting at the airport writing this last entry for our trip because we got back from dinner too late last night.

Our last day…. what can I say.   I stayed up late the other night with the blog and Faceboook and got many nice responses on the pictures from Tielt and Lokeren – in fact, I got responses as I was posting them.  We really had a great time and enjoyed the entire time.  As a result, we got up late this morning and didn’t hit the streets until 10:30.   Anyway, it was a beautiful morning and I captured some great pictures as we went from the Champs-Élysées, to the Left Bank, and back to the 9th arrondissement.  Here are a few:

 

Place de la Concorde

 

Place de la Concorde

 

Place de la Concorde

 

 

On the Champs Elysee – doesn’t it look like i’m on a bike behind this guy?

 

Look out for that car!

 

Arc de Triomphe

 

The famous Les Deux Magots – we had drinks here.

 

St. Germain des Pres

 

Inside St. Germain

 

Inside St. Germain

 

This is St. Germain

 

The organ

 

We rested a bit and then got ready for dinner.  We couldn’t do the special birthday dinner for Rich on Monday because most of the high end restaurants are closed on Monday. We had an outstanding dinner at Le Cinq which is in the Four Seasons George V Hotel – it was magnificent!  The entire hotel is beautiful but the restaurant itself is a work of art – the service was superb and the food divine.  We had the prix fixe and were there from 8pm until almost midnight!  Wow – I think that’s a record for us.  Here are a few pictures from the evening.

 

Place setting at the table – the flower petals were for Rich’s birthday

 

A glass of champagne – bien sur!

 

Rich waiting for the first course

 

Amuse bouche – octopus on the left (it was great)

 

First course – tuna tartare with caviar

 

Second course – tomato millefeuille with crab

 

Second course – a melon refreshment to go with the tomato millefeuille

 

A great Burgundy – Chambolle-Musigny – Les Baudes

 

Third course – razor clams

 

Fourth course – mushroom risotto with mushroom foam

 

Main course – blue lobster with a veal reduction sauce

 

Pre dessert – sorbet

 

Dessert – peach ice

 

Main dessert – chocolate pie with lemon sorbet

 

End of the meal – they actually gave us a picture to take with us

 

We had a wonderful vacation and it’s now time to get back to reality.  This trip was very special in so many ways.  We visited so many great places – Paris, London, St. Emilion, Mont St. Michel, Honfleur, the Normandy sites, Maastricht, Antwerp.  We also had a memorable time with my family in Belgium.  Monique and Eddy were outstanding hosts the entire time and attending the christening of Julie was also a highlight.

Monique, Eddy, Bart, Mariam, Sophie, Tom – heel erg bedankt voor een goede, goede tijd!

So now it’s the end of the story.  There are many memories and some beautiful pictures.  I hope that everyone who has followed the blog enjoyed the commentary and photos.  I’ll end with a couple of night time shots of the Eiffel Tower – what a magnificent city Paris is.  Adieu!

 

Eiffel Tower from our hotel window

 

Eiffel Tower from the room

 

 

 

 

 

Return to Paris – Happy Birthday, Rich

 

Happy Birthday, Rich!!

 

Having a glass of champagne at the Grand Hotel

 

Today we left Tielt in the morning and got back to Paris around noon.  Marie led us directly to the hotel without a hitch but the traffic was tough.  Driving in central Paris is a nightmare with all of the pedestrians, motorcycles, crazy cars, taxis….. yikes!!  We did, however, make it back without a problem.  Of course, we had to ditch Marie…. c’est dommage….. she’ll soon be helping others find there way…. tournez a gauche!

We spent the afternoon checking out different – and then some of the same – areas of Paris.  Here are just a few shots I took today:

 

Palais de Justice

 

Notre Dame and the Seine

 

Notice the crowds at Notre Dame

 

We had a great dinner tonight at a Venetian restaurant – excellent food and a very nice location.

 

Attached below are a few of the pictures I took while in Tielt, Belgium with my family.  We had a great time, ate a lot, drank a lot, and laughed a lot.  It was truly a great time.  I’ll close with the pictures and hope to have the final entry of our trip tomorrow night.  Adieu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Beautiful Day in Antwerp

After all of the rain yesterday, it couldn’t have been a more perfect day today.  The skies were blue, puffy clouds everywhere, and relatively warm.  Just between you and me, I think this will be our last day like this….. whatever!  Here are a few pictures I took again of the familiar sites but with spectacular color:

The cathedral

 

The cathedral

 

Glistening buildings on the square

 

Town Hall

 

Carriage in the square

The hotel had told us about a new museum not far from the center of the city so we decided to head out that way.  The museum is called “MAS”, Museum aan de Stroom” (Museum on the River).  The museum was great and a real architectural wonder.  It just opened last year and is a 9 story dedication to the city of Antwerp and other international cultures.  The museum has escalators that take you to the very top for some outstanding panoramic views of the city.  In addition, each level of the museum has a theme of displays including the history of the city, foreign cultures and some very unusual displays around life and death.  The building itself is incredible.

 

View of the museum

 

Entrance to the museum

 

Museum aan de Stroom

 

Cool view taking the escalator up

 

Panoramic view of the cathedral from the top of the museum

 

Rich

 

Top level of the museum

 

Panorama view of the old harbor

 

Panorama view of the Schelde River

 

We spent the rest of the day exploring different parts of the city and ended up back at the hotel.  We had discovered a new wine bar near the hotel and made reservations for dinner there.  When we got there at 8pm, not many people were in the bar.  We had a great evening there and ordered a flight of champagne, Spanish wine, and Iberico ham with bread and olives – it doesn’t seem like a lot but it was tasty and relatively light.

 

Glass of Bollinger Champagne

 

Iberico Pata Negra

 

The bar/restaurant is called Vigneto and we ended up having a glass of wine with the owner and talking to him for quite a while.  It was a great ending to our stay in Antwerp… very personal and engaging.  The Spanish wine was great and we ended with a Banyuls Grand Cru dating back to 1982 – this was a free token of the owner’s appreciation…. his name is Gino.

So…. tomorrow we’re off to Tielt (about one hour and half from here) and spending a few days with my family.  It will be great to see my cousins and other relatives over the weekend.  In addition, we’ll attend a baptism on Sunday with plenty of partying to accompany the event.  I’m not sure how much I’ll have to put on the blog but we’ll see.  Until then, good night from Antwerp…. a very friendly and beautiful city.

 

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Rainy Day in Antwerp

Rainy day in Antwerp doesn’t even begin to describe the rain we experienced today…. wow, it was something else.

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel – it was excellent…. almost like having your own maid cook you breakfast.  We were the only ones having breakfast this morning and were treated like royalty… everything was freshly made and presented.

We were off to go shopping…. looking for a new shirt or something like that.  We wandered off into different parts of the city and never really found what we were looking for.  Instead, I caught a few good pictures.

 

Look at that sky – beautiful now

 

Sint Joris Church

 

Entrance to Sint Joris

 

 

Interior of Sint Joris

 

Interior of Sint Joris

 

Interior of Sint Joris

 

We then walked back to the main square after getting very lost and turned around.  Anyway, we made it back just it time for me to get these close ups of the gold statues on the buildings – they’re really very beautiful.

 

The gold shimmers in the sunlight

 

Another building

 

Close up of the Town Hall

 

Time for a couple of beers and just in time…. all of a sudden the skies got very dark and opened up.  It was a downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning for about 2 hours.  We thought we’d have to have a dozen more beers but we lucked out and made it back to the hotel without having to use our umbrellas.  The downpour really caught a lot of people off guard and it was amazing to see just how much water came down.

 

There was a temporary stage set up in the main square… you may have seen it in some of my shots yesterday.  Today was a special Flanders Festival where food was offered, drinks were available, and live music starting about 7:30pm.  It was great and the square was filled with people.  Just a few shots of the activities:

 

One of the food areas

 

Preparing the stage

 

Flanders Festival

 

The show and the audience

 

Backdrop to the stage

 

Crowds in front of the Town Hall

 

Final nighttime shot of the cathedral

 

The forecast for tomorrow seems OK but it looks like Friday is going to be a very rainy day.  We’ll see…. we’re always prepared with umbrellas and there’s always a cafe close by 😉

 

 

 

Antwerpen

We left Maastricht early this morning after having our typical Dutch breakfast at one of the cafes.  Those of you on Facebook already saw this picture but I wanted to include it in the blog.

Ontbijt

When we left Maastricht, we had no problems getting out of the city and immediately into Belgium – it’s very close.  Of course, the rain started as soon as we hit the main highway…. at times, extremely hard.  We made a slight detour because I wanted to drive by Bobbejaanland – it’s now a major theme park like Knott’s Berry Farm but when I graduated from college, I worked here for several months.  That was before it became a theme park.  When I worked there, I waited on tables and had a great time.

Bobbejaanland

We drove directly to our hotel in Antwerp – well, not necessarily directly because I missed the first cue that Marie gave me and as a result, we had to drive right through the middle of the city.  It’s a tough city to drive in because of the numerous tram tracks and the number of one way streets.   The hotel is wonderful.  It’s a small boutique hotel right in the middle of Antwerp and it’s where we stayed 10 years ago.  It’s called De Witte Lelie (the white lily).  Here are a few pictures of the room and the hotel in general.

De Witte Lelie

 

The Lobby

 

Staircase leading to our room – Yikes!

 

Extra room

 

Main Room

 

Garden view from our room

 

Fresh white lilies in the room

We spent the rest of the afternoon cafe hopping and enjoying the sites.  We were lucky because the rain had stopped but the sky was gloomy most of the afternoon.  Here are some of the sites:

The trams I mentioned earlier

 

Distant view of the Town Hall

 

The tops of many of the buildings are beautiful and topped with gold

 

The top of the cathedral

 

Town Hall

 

Another church

I should tell you that even though we had a hearty breakfast this morning, we still had lunch when we arrived in Antwerp.  I had mussels with french fries and Rich had a croque monsieur – a couple of beers with them naturally.  You can see that we haven’t necessarily stayed on any healthy diets while on vacation.  We’ll have to deal with that when we get home.  Meanwhile, we went back to the hotel, rested, and got ready for dinner.  Rich wanted Italian so the hotel recommended a great Italian restaurant that was extremely busy and noisy – a lot of fun.  Again, the languages were all screwed up.  For some reason, there was French mixed with Flemish mixed with Italian.  I’m not really sure what language I ordered in but it was all part of the fun.  We had to wait a long time to order, to get our food, and wait between courses.  But, Faisal, you would have been happy because we had plenty of bread, olive oil, and red wine to keep us content.  Here’s what we had:

Tuna salad starter for me

 

Beef carpaccio for Rich

 

We shared the gnocchi

 

Veal Milanese for me

 

Veal piccata for Rich

 

After all that food it was time to take a little walk – we finished dinner at 10pm and then walked around the city and back to the hotel.  Here are some nighttime shots of Antwerp:

 

The cathedral with a beautiful night sky

 

The Town Hall

 

Some of the buildings around the square

 

Anette – we had to dump our Peugeot and they gave us this one. Ha ha!

 

That’s it for tonight.  We had a great first day in Antwerp and are looking forward to our experiences tomorrow.  Let’s hope we don’t eat as much as we did today!

 

 

 

Hanging Out in Maastricht

 

Today was a pretty laid back day…. although it turned to be a very beautiful day weather wise.  It never really rained and the sky was mostly blue with a lot of puffy clouds.  We started the day by touring some different parts of the city.  As I mentioned before, Maastricht lies on the Maas River so we went to the other side of the river to discover a less touristy area.  We were able to cross over the St. Servaas Bridge which is a stone bridge and dates back to 1298 making it the oldest bridge in The Netherlands.  We visited St. Maartens church and then came back to the central area of Maastrict.  Here are some pictures:

 

View of St. Maartens Church from afar

 

View of Maastricht

 

Monument – not sure of what

 

St. Maartens Church

 

St. Maartens Church interior

 

St. Maartens Church

 

View of St. Servaas Bridge

 

Maastrict View

 

St. Servaas Bridge

 

Het Dinghuis

 

As you can tell from the picture above, the city was filled with people today.  Most of the stores opened late, however….. usually noon or 1pm.  I guess the folks from Maastricht want to extend the weekend as long as possible.

 

The day turned out great because we didn’t have any schedules to follow and the weather was perfect.  We did a lot of cafe hopping going from square to square.  It turns out that there are a lot of open areas to catch a cup of coffee or have a beer – and of course, people watch.  We did it all and had a great afternoon.  We ended the day by having dinner in one of the local brasseries.  A very nice way to end our stay in Maastricht.

 

Tomorrow we’re off to Belgium and we’ll see what adventures we can experience along the way.

 

 

Maastricht

 

We left Honfleur this morning and drove the 4 1/2 hours to Maastricht – most of it via the autoroute and a lot of it with tolls attached.  All in all, it worked out great but still a lengthy drive.  As we approached Maastricht, the rain came down in such torrents that I was forced to drive at about 20-30 miles per hour…. it was torrential.  As we got into Maastricht, the rain stopped and Marie was able to get us right to the hotel – I finally figured out how to input not just a city but an address as well.  Remember, Marie only understands French.

Maastricht is a very pretty city that sits on the banks of the Maas river.  It’s a very old city and one filled with cobble stone streets.  Here are a few pictures of the Town Hall and St. Stefaan Basilica:

 

 

Town Hall

 

Town Hall Square – note the looming storm clouds

 

St. Servaas Basilica

 

St. Servaas at 10pm

 

St. Servaas – it’s truly red

 

The hotel is a very interesting hotel.  It’s located in a previous monastery that dates back several centuries and was updated as a very trendy hotel.  It’s a strange combination of ancient and ultra modern at the same time.  It’s a very nice hotel with all of the necessary amenities but still has a very peculiar identify…. Rich and I really like it.

 

Exterior of Kruisherenhotel – our hotel

 

Entrance to the hotel – yes, it’s a copper tunnel

 

Entrance to the hotel

 

Fresco on the main wall of our room

 

I hope the fresco is not visible at night…. it might scare me!

 

We wanted something different for dinner tonight so we went to an Italian restaurant called Il Giardino.  The Italian owner served us and gave a very special treatment for some reason.  We had a great meal and the ambience was intense and with a lot of good vibes – a very strange mixture of Dutch and Italian… who would have guessed….

 

Il Giardino

 

Not sure what tomorrow will bring but that’s all for tonight.

 

 

 

Honfleur

 

Today was a rest day.  We spent the entire day looking around Honfleur and enjoying the town by foot.  Today was also market day and the streets were filled with vendors of all types – vegetables, meat, seafood, flowers, cheese, and other merchandise as well.  We spent the morning walking through the various stands and examining the goods.  Here’s a small selection:

 

Local oysters

 

Beautiful leeks

 

Radishes

 

Lots of strawberries

 

Vegetable stands

 

Mussels – these are much smaller than most I’ve seen

 

Bread – the French definitely eat a lot of bread

 

Sausages

 

Small goat – not sure whether he was for sale or not

 

I also took some more pictures of the harbor this morning…. this time without many of the boats there.  Although it looked as though it were going to rain all morning, it didn’t and I think the light was good.  What do you think?

 

Honfleur harbor

 

Honfleur harbor

 

Passers by

 

Passers by

 

House of Samuel Champlain who founded Quebec in Canada – interesting, huh?

 

More passers by

 

Enough passers by

 

 

Love the reflection on the water – Monet would have approved

 

We had lunch in town…. very simple, I had oysters to start with mussels and french fries and Rich had entrecôte steak with fries.  We sat next to a British family that was vacationing in the area – mom and dad with two kids from London, his mother from Scotland and his great uncle from Australia.  Turned out that his great uncle comes here all the time because he was part of the unit that liberated the first bridge – Pegasus Bridge – during the D Day invasion.  It was fascinating to hear that.  He’s always welcomed as a hero when he visits – it was great.

 

It started to rain so we walked back to the hotel.  As it turned out, it would rain the rest of the day without much let up.  Not too much of a problem today because we were intending to rest today anyway.

 

We had one of our last gourmet meals tonight at the hotel restaurant.  It was great.  I, of course, took a few pictures of the food and the restaurant itself:

 

A little starter with champagne before entering the main restaurant

 

Enjoying the champagne before dinner

 

Enjoying the champagne before dinner

 

A view of the restaurant

 

Amuse bouche of lobster

 

Parmesan gnocchi with an egg yolk

 

Rich’s starter of lobster…. and a lot it was

 

We both had the St. Pierre – John Dory with vegetables

 

Gianduja dessert – chocolate with hazelnut

 

Framboise with chocolate

 

We leave tomorrow morning for Maastricht in the Netherlands.  We’ll back to France in another week or so.  Our journey continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normandy

We left Dinard fairly early and drove to the D Day sites in Normandy getting there around 11am.  We first went to Omaha Beach where the Americans had the toughest battle.  There’s a memorial on the boardwalk and then a steel or metal sculpture on the beach itself.  The view was amazing and luckily, the weather was accommodating.

 

The sculpture called “Les Braves” with a view of the coastline

 

The Omaha Beach memorial

 

While we were on the beach, there was a van with speakers playing American patriotic songs – Sousa marches, Dixie, and others – kinda cool.

 

We left there and drove to the American Cemetery.  There’s first a museum with actual footage of the war, specifics around the D Day invasion and other interesting stuff.  You then move on to the cemetery.  First of all, the placement of the cemetery with a spectacular view of the Channel is breathtaking.  It was exactly what I had anticipated and then more.  You then see the white crosses that represent the thousands who lost their lives in the war.  It is so moving and beautiful at the same time.  The grounds are immaculate.

 

Inside the museum

 

Inside the museum

 

The cemetery is so well maintained

 

Exact rows each way you look

 

Beginning of the cemetery

 

Looking down the breadth of the cemetery

 

It started to sprinkle just as we were getting ready to leave but it never really rained….. yet!  Let me describe how the rain occurs in this part of France.  One minute everything looks fine…. puffy clouds, blue sky, everything’s ok.  Then in a matter of minutes, you hear thunder and the heavens open.  Once you hear the thunder coming, you have only a minute or so to find cover.  We discovered that when we got to our next stop at Bayeux.

 

I had always heard about the tapestry of Bayeux and wanted to see it. It was incredible and an insightful perspective on the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and William the Conqueror.  It’s a fascinating historical depiction of the event on a linen cloth that is hundreds of feet long.  The tapestry is exhibited in a circular museum so you can see the entire piece.  Amazing.  We also got to see the Bayeux Cathedral – Notre Dame – and it was also quite stunning.  Here are a few pics of the cathedral…. I couldn’t take any of the tapestry:

 

Entrance to the cathedral

 

Side view

 

Inside the cathedral

 

Stained glass inside

 

After Bayeux, we drove to our hotel in Honfleur.  Honfleur is the small town near Le Havre that was home to many of the impressionists including Monet.  The harbor itself was the subject of many of the artists.  Apparently the light is very special.  Since we arrived so late today, I didn’t get a chance to capture the light of the impressionists but I took a few shots to demonstrate the beauty.

 

Honfleur

 

Honfleur harbor

 

View from across the harbor

 

Honfleur

 

And then there’s the guy who was taking home the famous baguette for his dinner.  Obviously one wasn’t enough!!

 

Anyone for a baguette?

 

 

That’s all for today.  I’ve been drinking a little of the Calvados that the hotel has given us so the uploading of pictures has been a little more fun tonight – ha ha!  As you can see, we had a very busy day in and out of the car.  By the way, Anette, you had asked to see a picture of the car – our Peugeot.  It’s actually a great car, runs on diesel and is fairly easy to drive.  Marie has been a little more obedient lately so we let her speak her piece…. sometimes.  If anyone asks me directions in French, I now have all of the answers, thanks to Marie.  Good night!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mont Saint Michel

 

We started off early today by driving to Mont Saint Michel.  It was a short drive from our hotel in Dinard and only took about 45 minutes.  As I suspected, there were hundreds of people from all over Europe attempting to get in.  It’s fascinating…. you park the car in a large parking lot, you walk a fair distance to where the shuttle bus stops, and then you have to walk a large distance to get from the shuttle bus to the abbey – it’s a ton of walking.  That just gets you to the entrance.  From there it’s a series of very steep steps to get to the top platform where you then tour the abbey itself.  At first, I honestly thought that it was a huge tourist trap with all sorts of souvenir shops and such and would be a total bore.  On the contrary, we had a great tour guide when we entered the abbey itself and were enthralled throughout the one hour tour of the abbey.  He was French, of course, but had lived in England for many years and had a lot of funny things to say about the French.  At the same time, he had a wealth of knowledge around Medieval life in the abbey and had stories that were both fascinating and humorous.  It was a great time.  Here are the initial pictures I took of the abbey…. it is so impressive, particularly on a day like today with fluffy clouds and blue sky.

 

Approaching Mont Saint Michel from the parking lot

 

The abbey viewed from the shuttle stop

 

A closer look at the abbey

 

Rich posing with one of the knights

 

Here’s a view of one of the many series of steps

 

The panorama from the top platform of the abbey

 

Looking up

 

Inside the abbey

 

A beautiful fresco in the abbey

 

The rock upon which the abbey sits – it’s supposed to be good fortune to touch it – of course, I did

 

St. Michael himself

 

When we returned to Dinard, we dropped off the car and walked over to a beachside cafe where we had a couple of beers.  We took our umbrellas because the skies were beginning to look quite ominous.  All of a sudden there was thunder and lightning and the skies literally opened a torrent of rain that lasted about a half hour.  It was so torrential that we actually saw a couple of sea rescues of a few people in a sailboat and another couple actually walking along the sand.  I captured a series of pictures which chronicle the before and after effects of the rain.

 

Before the storm

 

Beginning of the storm

 

After the storm

 

It was a wild half hour or so with everyone taking lots of pictures of the rain.  Through it all, we quietly sat under the cafe awnings drinking our beers:

 

 

It’s a Belgian beer so we must be getting ready for Belgium.
That’s all for tonight.  We’re off to Omaha Beach tomorrow and then to Honfleur.  We’re hoping for a nice day without too much rain.