France 2012

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.

Dinard

Saint Emilion to Dinard

Here’s a map showing the distance we drove today from Saint Emilion to Dinard – it’s a distance of 320 miles.  We didn’t encounter any problems along the way but Marie (that’s what we named our Navigation voice) wasn’t cooperating too well.  I wasn’t sure what settings were in place but they definitely didn’t include the most direct route.  She sent us through tiny villages when we left Saint Emilion and it was raining on top of it all.  After about an hour or so, I told Marie that we were taking matters into our own hands.  We finally ended up on the autoroute and then were able to move fairly quickly.  The toll was about $32 for the entire length – a lot of money, but well worth it. We got to Dinard about 2:30pm.  Here are the pictures from our balcony:

 

Here’s the bay at low tide

 

Again at low tide

 

Side view from the hotel

Low tide

 

We couldn’t understand why all of the boats were sunk in mud when we arrived around mid afternoon.  I checked into the tides at Dinard and discovered that we were at the lowest point for the day and that high tide would arrive about 9:30pm and rise an incredible 36 feet!  It is really very hard to believe but take a look at the pictures of the same views later in the day:

 

View from our balcony at high tide

 

Notice that there’s very little ground now showing

 

Even less now

 

It’s unbelievable how quickly and how enormous the tides change.  Apparently this occurs twice or maybe even three times a day.  The last picture was taken somewhere around 10pm and it was still light.

 

This last picture is for Anette.  Anette, you asked for a watercolor and I had already determined that the watercolor would need to come from the northern part of France.  We were in luck today because we saw a young artist while at a seaside brasserie who was painting with water colors.  We asked him to paint a special picture just for you:

 

Watercolor scene

 

Isn’t  that a great scene?  Now we’re not done yet.  We asked him to superimpose both Rich’s and my faces down below somewhere.  And see that island with the castle in the background?  We asked him to paint a tiny Eiffel Tower on that island just for you.  Parfait, n’est-ce pas?

 

That’s it for tonight.  It’s been a long day and we’ll have more stories to tell tomorrow.

 

 


Leaving Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion is a very special place…. I’m so glad that we came here and that the weather was perfect throughout our stay.  Rich mentioned the other day that Saint Emilion reminded him of the place where the movie Chocolat took place…. it has very much the same feel and magical quality. Today we spent most of the day relaxing and walking around the city.  I did two strenuous activities in the morning…. climbing the stairs of the church steeple and then climbing the steps of the tower of the king.  Both were extremely high with very narrow and dark steps that went in a circular pattern.  I only encountered one person coming down while I was ascending and we had to rearrange our camera bags so that we could both squeeze by – very narrow.  But the views from the top were incredible and it was such a beautiful day.  So here are some of the steps along the way and the views from above.

Stairway to the top of the steeple.

 

View from above.

 

View from the top

 

This is how far up I was.

On the way to the King’s Tower, there was a very beautiful street scene that I wanted to capture and kept getting frustrated because people would enter the picture.  I finally got the shot I wanted when all of a sudden this man appeared from a doorway and entered the scene.  He stepped back into the doorway because he could see me taking a picture.  It’s funny because you can still see his stomach sticking out of the doorway.  I have one without the stomach but I thought this one was unique.

Just a tiny bit of his belly showing…

 

Here are a few shots from the tower:

 

Workers trimming the vines

View of the church steeple from the tower.

The dinner tonight was at the Hostellerie de Plaisance, the hotel we are staying at.  Philippe Etchebest is a Grand Chef of France and presents an incredible meal for all of his guests.  We started by sitting out on the terrace and selecting all of your meal selections.  We went a la carte with only 3 courses – starter, main course, cheese and dessert… well I guess that’s really four.  Anyway, you make all of your selections before you enter the dining room.  The process is very formal and you have a glass of champagne while you’re selecting… of course.  Once you enter the dining room, there are no longer any menus or choices to be made.  And everything arrives like clock work.  Our meal was outstanding beginning with several amuse bouches, a starter – Rich had an egg dish with Spanish ham along the side and I had the most humongous oyster I’ve ever seen.  One oyster cooked in coconut milk that filled the plate – delicious but very strange looking.  We both had Brittany lobster that was de-shelled table side.

 

Rich and a glass of champagne

 

Marc with his back to the hotel

 

Small amuse bouche outside to go with the champagne

 

The ham accompanying the egg dish

 

Here’s the enormous oyster – a delicacy in the Bordeaux area

 

The lobster

 

There was a slight problem with the desserts.  They mistakenly gave Rich the strawberry dessert although he had ordered the chocolate dessert.  As a result, they gave him both.  On top of that, they brought me another dessert for my birthday with fireworks and all – literally, there was a huge sparkler on the display.  The chef came to the table and started applauding and everyone in the room applauded – it was great.

 

Pineapple dessert for Marc

 

The chocolate dessert for Rich

 

And here’s the mistake – very tasting strawberry cake inside

 

And finally, the birthday surprise – see the sparkler at the bottom right

 

And then a picture with the chef….

 

 

 

The birthday cake

 

It was a great ending to our stay in Saint Emilion.  As I said, it’s a very special little village with a prestigious wine history and a very comfortable feel.  I would definitely come back.

We head off tomorrow very early because we have a long drive from here to Dinard in the north of France.  See you there.


Wine Tasting à la Française

 

Today we arranged for a couple of wine tours in the immediate area.  Saint Emilion is one of the great appellations of Bordeaux and we learned a tremendous amount by just visiting two wineries.  We went to two chateaus – Chateau Figeac and Chateau Beausejour – both within a mile or two of the village.  As opposed to Napa or Sonoma, the wineries have relatively small areas of vineyards and there is tremendous history in both the winemaking process and the wine itself. For the first visit, we drove to the chateau and requested an English tour.  Our tour guide, Gwen, was not only extremely fluent in English but also very knowledgeable.  We had a group that included us, a Brazilian couple, a Danish couple, and a couple from Virginia who were extremely annoying…. you know, constant stupid questions like, “Is this a red wine?”… of course I jest, but they were still very annoying.  Here are a few pictures of the chateau and the environs:

 

 

The Chateau – home to the owners of Chateau Figeac

 

The wine tasting area – only one wine to taste.

 

 

 

 

The tasting at Chateau Figeac was in the morning and then we had another at 2:30pm at Chateau Beausejour.  The chateau was actually within walking distance of the village and our hotel.  We had a private tour with Patrick who had previously worked in Napa and Sonoma and again was fluent in English.  He also gave us all sorts of little tidbits of information that we had never heard.  First of all, the wine for this chateau was stored in underground limestone caves – you’ll see the pictures below.  Apparently, these caves were dug centuries ago to claim the limestone which built the entire village.  The entire area including the village is built upon these caves below and are all interconnected….. amazing.  In addition, the limestone is very easy to cut underground because it contains so much moisture – Patrick showed us the humidity within the caves and it was 98%.  Evidently this keeps the wine at a stable temperature with the proper moisture.

 

 

The wine barrels

 

 

More of the caves

 

Of course with all of this walking around and education, we needed a sugar break to build up the energy.  We stopped at one of the many macaroon shops and grabbed a small bag:

 

 

Chocolate, raspberry, vanilla….. and extremely light.

 

And to end the day before dinner and to celebrate my birthday, we had a glass of rose champagne on the terrace of the hotel.  I love this shot of the champagne glass reflecting the village behind.

That’s it for tonight.  Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful birthday wishes.  We’ll be in Saint Emilion one more day.

 

 

Cheers….. à votre santé!

 


Saint Emilion

 

 

The trip from Paris to Bordeaux on the train was fairly uneventful.  When we arrived at the train station, it took us forever to find the car rental agency.  Then, of course, the car we had requested (one with GPS) wasn’t available.  After lunch and a couple of comical episodes, we were able to exchange the car and were well on our way.  It’s actually pretty funny… the car is a great diesel Peugeot, stick shift (they still make those?), and a navigation device that only offers directions in French.  She has a wonderful voice so it makes the turns and roundabouts even more fun.  The difference between straight ahead and turn right is “tout droit” vs “droit” – better pay attention or you might miss your turn.  LOL

We arrived in Saint Emilion and checked into the hotel.  Since it was Sunday afternoon, there were a ton of visitors (mostly French) in the small town – it’s absolutely beautiful!  These are the views from our room:

 

 

And then a few more from the street below:

 

 

 

The town is famous, of course, for its noble wines but is also known for its macaroons…. haven’t tried them yet but it’s next on the list.

 

 

 

 

We had dinner at a very small restaurant in the village on a very steep inclined street – so steep I almost lost my balance on several occasions.  Anyway, the dinner was great and we sat next to a couple from Cape Town, South Africa.  We talked throughout dinner and found out that the husband was originally from Belgium – sorta reminded me of Hercule Poirot.  Those Belgians are hiding in the most unusual places, don’t you think?

In closing, here are a couple of shots of the town after dark.

 

 

 


Happy Birthday, Rudy!!!

Sorry, but I’ve run out of time tonight…. too tired from a wonderful day.  Stay tuned to tomorrow’s update.


À bientôt à Paris

 

 

We left London at 8:50 on the Eurostar from St. Pancras Train Station.  Here are a couple of pics from the station – notice the Olympic rings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived in Paris and went back to our original hotel and enjoyed the bottle of champagne we’d gotten when we first arrived….. had to get ready for Joel Robuchon!

 

 

Our reservations at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon were for 6:30pm – a little early for us but that’s all that they offer on a reservation basis.  It was on the other side of the Seine and traffic was horrific.  I wanted to be there just a little bit late but not lose our reservation!  Not to worry, everything worked out fine.  This was to be my first birthday dinner…. there are many to follow, trust me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything was outstanding.  We ordered several small courses somewhat like tapas style.  We were able to take some hints from those around us and everyone was fairly fluent in English…. although honestly sometimes it’s really hard to understand them because of the accent.  Anyway, we sat next to a family of four from New York – lived in Connecticut.  They had two small girls and a dog…. can you believe it?  Taking small children (they were probably 4-6 years old) and a dog into a restaurant like this???  We loved it.  They were a great couple – she spoke French fluently since she was born in Paris and he was of Belgian descendant… can’t get any better than that!  Anette, I took their picture just to show you that even Raya could have a good time at Robuchon.

 

We had a variety of different plates – all were exquisite…. here they are:

Tomato gazpacho – velvety

Eggplant with mozzarella

Iberian ham to go with the bruschetta – absolutely delicious!

Crevettes (Shrimp) wrapped in very thin vermicelli and fried – yum!

Langoustine in a puff pastry

Crab royal served cold with a salad casing.

John Dory – known as St. Pierre in France

Angus Beef

Joel Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes – is there enough butter in here for you?

Quel dommage – no more mashed potatoes.

 

The mashed potatoes are honestly magical… you’ve never had anything quite as delicate from a potato.  Evidently everyone asks for them when they come here and I’m so glad that I knew to order them.

 

Last but not least – the desserts…..

 

It was called Frais – strawberries on top of a very light custard.

Chocolate – very intense and velvety.

It probably seems like a lot of food but it actually was just right.  I first had my doubts about a counter offered French gourmet meal but it was an outstanding experience and actually a lot of fun.  Not stuffy… not pretentious… excellent food…. and a good time.  I won’t mention how many euros we offered to alleviate the European financial crisis – Angela Merkel would be proud!

I’m a little sorry to leave Paris in the morning but we’ll be back in another week or so.  What a great city and one that always continues to shine from my perspective.  We leave tomorrow early to board the train to Bordeaux.  I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

If you read my blog, please take a moment to share a comment…. if nothing else than to say that you were here.  Hope you enjoy!

 

 


London

The Union Jack flying all over London

Wow!!!  Taking the Eurostar through the Chunnel is great!  It’s a very smooth ride, the seats are very comfortable, and you’re there in a very short time….. 2 1/2 hours Paris to central London.  Today started with a slight rain.  When we arrived in London we had to wait for our hotel room and of course, it was rainy and blistery.  Winds were blowing and we must have been around 60 degrees compared to yesterday’s 90 degrees…. talk about a change!

What to have for lunch?  Why fish and chips at a local pub, right?  And that’s just the way it went.  We found a nice out of the way pub called Two Chairmen very close to Trafalgar Square.  Here’s my pic of the Square with Admiral Nelson looking great among the fluffy clouds.

Just before we had lunch we stopped by the Queen’s Palace…. and yes, apparently she was there this week because the royal banner was flying high.  I spoke to one of the “Event Coordinators” who was pleased as punch to tell me why the Mall was closed until the end of September and what activities were planned.  Apparently, there are several races planned on the street including the Marathon during the Olympics.  Here’s the view:

 

Buckingham Palace

 

The Mall and preparations

 

And finally, they just put up the Olympic Rings on the Tower Bridge earlier this week and I think I got a great shot of the bridge and the wonderful sky above.

 

 

It was short stay in London but always worth the visit.  We ended the day with a visit to a great Chinese restaurant called Hakkasan.  The food is terrific, they have wonderful cocktails and the vibe is intense….. everyone’s having a great time.

So Anette, we almost missed the train this morning waiting for you and Faisal to show up and join us on the Eurostar…. where were you?  What a great time we would have had.  You both would have loved Hakkasan and the entire scene there.

So, that’s it for tonight…. I know, it’s a short blog but we’re back on the run tomorrow early to catch the train back to Paris… I’m sure I’ll have a few more food pics tomorrow when we go to a special Parisian landmark.  Until then, Cheerio from London!


Jules Verne et La Tour Eiffel

Place de la Concorde

First full day in Paris and what a day!  It started by raining just a little – just enough to get the streets wet and to muggy up the weather…. boy was it hot and muggy!  The temperature was 85 degrees, it felt like 90 and the humidity was oppressive.  But hey…. it’s Paris so it can’t be too bad, right?

We had 12:30 reservations at Jules Verne on the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower.  We wore jackets so that we looked the part and took Metro to the nearest station – still a hefty 30 minute walk in the noon day sun.  But what a treat!  The experience was truly amazing and lived up to every expectation I had imagined.  I’ve included a small gallery of everything we ate:

First a glass of champagne – bien sur!

A little Amuse Bouche 0f orange, salmon and a little asparagus

A starter of veal layers in an aspic sauce

John Dory over a bed of shaved fennel and tomatoes

A raspberry/chocolate square

A side order of macaroons a la Jules Verne

Amuse Bouche

Veal Layers in Aspic

John Dory

Raspberry/Chocolate Square

Macaroons

 

 

Here’s a picture of the place setting and the marvelous butter they serve with the logo on top:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A special note to Adrienne:  Yes, we have eaten a lot but remember this blog is about food and other things as well – you’re going to see a lot of food.

 

Special note to Anette:  here is the watercolor we found for you along the Seine…. oops, what no Eiffel Tower… c’est dommage!

 

Selected exclusively for Anette

 

And now just a few pics to capture the rest of the day.  Gotta get some sleep because we’re catching an early train to London.  A bientot!

Hey Rich! Do you know where the Eiffel Tower is???

 

Same shot with Marc

Notre Dame

Nightime look towards the Place de la Concorde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Nous Sommes Arrivés à Paris

We arrived without a hitch and had a wonderful flight on the Air France Airbus A380 – what a machine!  We boarded the plane via several ramps that led us directly into Business Class which was the overhead portion of the plane.  It took off like a rocket ship without a sound – it was truly amazing.  And the seats were incredible!  We were able to recline totally flat so that we were able to sleep fairly well.  Here’s a small preview of our dinner meal:

 

 

Lobster salad with a mango chutney in center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken fricassee                                                                                        Beef Tornadoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice the real silverware!!!

 

Here’s a picture of our little neighbor on board who was a champ throughout the flight and never sounded a peep:

 

We arrived on time and took a taxi to our hotel – it took a long time because of the traffic. The hotel, Hyatt Madeleine, is new and very comfortable – are we really in Paris???  Everyone is helpful and speaks English.  There was a problem tonight with the drapes that we never noticed and they left a very nice bottle of champagne for us – mon dieu!

We had to have a couple of beers at the Cafe de la Paix – it’s a tradition for us and a landmark in Paris.  It looks upon the old Opera Garnier so I couldn’t resist this wonderful view of the opera house with the cafe logo in the forefront:

 

 

After resting a bit, we had a very nice dinner at the Royal Madeleine bistro – very authentic French and not touristy at all.

 

Bienvenue en France and what a wonderful welcome it was….. this is just the first day so stay tuned!

 

 

 


Getting Ready

We’re on the final countdown – we leave Tuesday at 4pm!

We should be in Paris on Wednesday morning and the blog will be updated daily – depending upon access to wi-fi.  We plan to go to London via the Chunnel and then back to Paris.  We’ll take the train to Bordeaux and stay 3 days in St. Emilion.  From there we drive up the west coast of France to Dinard which is in Brittany on the northern coast.  It’s then off to Honfleur in Normandy where we visit Omaha Beach and other Normand sites.  Next on the itinerary is Maastricht, the Netherlands, Antwerp, Belgium, Tielt, Belgium and finally back to Paris.  Click on itinerary up at the top and you’ll have a daily track of our trip.

Come check out the blog on a regular basis and leave your comments.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Marc