4-6-19 Brussels Delicious Tour

Belgium – it must be chocolate time, or waffle time, or even beer time – all of which were part of a walking tour we did on our last day in Brussels. Starting out at the Brussels City Tours Office

The front of Brussels City Tours – where all the magic is coordinated.

with our guide Jasmine (the same guide we had for our day trip to Bruges).

Jasmine and Valerie in the office of Brussels City Tours

First stop was to walk along the Royale Galleries – a shopping area with three distinct areas.

The really expensive shops are here.
Glass covered so all weather shopping is possible

This glass-roofed arcade is made up of three areas – The Queen’s Gallery, the King’s Gallery and also the Princes’ Gallery. We found it to be filled with high-end jewelers, luxury watches, fashion apparel, beauty products, decorative accessories, gift ideas, delicious pastries, delicate biscuits, but also the best chocolates in the country!

Our first stop was right inside the door at Godiva.

We did get a sample at Godiva

Started in 1926 this chocolate place is known around the world but we only stopped to watch strawberries dipped into chocolate before moving down the lane past several different chocolatier places to visit Neuhaus.

Pierre Macolini Chocolatier – just another place to enjoy this elixer.
The Chocolates by Mary are also quite good.
A small sample box – only about 38 euros or so

Neuhaus, started in 1857, opened the first store in the Royale Galleries and it has been operation ever since. One of its major claims to fame is that the founder’s grandson invented the chocolate praline – a decadent chocolate cream ganache center inside a chocolate shell.

Our Neuhaus “guide” for our tasting experience.

Our visit included a tasting session of various chocolate (coco in the raw, white chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate) pieces to taste the differences. It was a quick interlude and quite enjoyable.

Some of the items available at Neuhaus.
15 to 25 euro Small gift boxes for every occasion

Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to buy anything (just as well actually) but they did point out there was a store in Washington DC we could visit! (although he also said it would be cheaper to buy another suitcase and fill it  in Belgium then to buy chocolates from the store in DC).

Easter is coming
Yes, Easter is coming for sure.

Next up was a stop for a traditional  light and crisp waffle along with a taste of a local cherry beer.  This is NOT  the round, sugar loaded waffle our hotel served, and is also called Belgian. We popped into this shop, got seated and were served almost immediately. Along with our waffle and cherry beer were a couple of macaroons.

Waffle and cherry beer with a couple of macaroons

I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture of the store as a remembrance of where we were! The waffle was wonderful, sprinkled with powdered sugar along with the cherry beer was nice.

Along the way, our guide, Jasmine continued to give us insights into the various stores – pointing out all the expensive ones I might add – and telling us the history of the place. Very interesting.

One of the most well known locations in Brussels is the site of Manneken Pis a statue of a little boy peeing into the fountain. We had visited it previously so certainly knew all about it. However, we didn’t know there was another statue – Jeanneke Pis – where a little girl in short pigtails, squatting and urinating on a blue-grey limestone base.

Jeanneke Pis

This is on a narrow cul-de-sac and protected behind iron bars. This statue was created in 1987 three hundred years after Manneken Pis , as part of a medical foundation opening. She is smiling audaciously .

Next up was the Grand Place. We had wandered around the Grand Place previously (see 4-3-19 Brussels Walking around and learning the City) so we had some prior information.

Here we are in the Grand Place.

However, Jasmine talked about the various guildhalls, what has happened over the years and how the area had changed.

Did you know that Karl Marx lived in Brussels for two years and wrote some of his most powerful philosophy here. This plaque was on the wall of one of the guild houses

Next stop biscuits. Invented by the monks in the middle ages we sampled what is called Pain à la Grèque – or ‘Greek Bread ‘( a sugar bread distributed to the poor) along with several ginger  savory biscuits (cookies to you and me).

Jasmine sharing some information in the biscuits shop
Lots and lots of biscuits
Some of the molds and biscuits in the shop

Along the walls were various molds that have been used by the shop for who knows how long.

Along the way to see Manneken Pis, it was clear the city had become much more crowded from our earlier visits. Today he was dressed differently and it was crowded so we didn’t stay long.

Manneken Pis in an entire new outfit
Manneken Pis was crowded this day.

Next up, the lady  with the hat counting her change

Janeen hiding behind the woman counting her change.
Jasmine with the Madame Chapeau

and other sites along the way ending up to sample some Brussels cheese

The cheese shop
Very strong cheese served with onion

and finally some fresh fish (fried calamari) at the historic fish market.

The final snack, fried calamari

This ended our  delicious tour . Jasmine did a wonderful job of taking us around, sampling some of the treats of the City and giving us a better understanding of the City she has shared for three decades.

Het Zinneke – part of the family of pissing statues in Brussels




4-4-19 Bruges Belgium – A UNESCO Heritage Site

Bruges, located about 62 miles west of Brussels, and thus much closer to the North Sea, is one of the most enchanting cities of Belgium. UNESCO declared the entire city a cultural heritage site in 2000. Bruges received its City Charter in 1128 – so it’s been around a while.   As with all cities it has had its ups and downs over the last 1000 years or so, being under control of French dukes, Spanish/Dutch masters and German/Austrian incursions. After 1965 the original medieval city experienced a renaissance. Restorations of residential and commercial structures, historic monuments, and churches generated a surge in tourism and economic activity in the ancient downtown area. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts resulted in Bruges being designated ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2002. It attracts some eight million tourists annually but, according to our guide, we had arrived during a quiet time so there were not the crowds she usually encounters.

To start our tour, we gathered together with City Tours guide Jasmine and fellow tourists from Indonesia, South Korea and NYC. Seven of us were driven in a Mercedes van (with our guide) from Brussels to Bruges arriving around 11:00 or so to beautiful weather! It had been raining recently but the entire time we were on our tour it was lovely – some clouds but lots of sunshine and cooler temperatures.

Just starting out on our tour at the bridge over the canal.

First up was a walking tour across the Bridge over Lovers Lake and through the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde – a community of pious women beginning in 1244 – now a priory of Benedictine nuns who live and work in the buildings.

Benedictine nuns live in the houses surrounding this area.

The entrance building was at one of the bridges and is dated 1776.

Here’s the building dated 1776.

From there we walked along various cobblestone streets and found ourselves at the dock for a 30-minute boat tour of the central city canals aka, Little Venice.

The fountain, with the horse head, was specially made for the horses in Bruges who pull carriage rides.

The boat went through several of the canals while the guide pointed out historic buildings along the way.

Our guide pointing out something.
These buildings have a wood face  since the 1920s- not typical for the area.
The Weather Van has different letters for the compass directions,  Z (S) O (W)
A selfie on the boat trip with my lovely wife.

It is clear there has been a lot of work done to preserve the area – evidence of cleaning, new paint and scaffolding activities were evident.

Buildings along the boat ride.
One more shot of that church tower.
We went under or over a number of bridges in this “little Venice”.
Nice coloring of the buildings in the late afternoon sun.

One of the local landmarks is the Church of Our Lady with its tower of 379 feet and is the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.

Here is that  bell tower they keep talking about.
The exterior of the City Hall with all its gilded decorations.

Our guide pointed out this “brick mountain” tower on the boat ride as well as several times during our tour. This church has a sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504 (we didn’t go to see it however).

Our next stop was to walk through some of the shopping areas, visit the fish market and a quick visit to Church of the Holly Blood.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood where we saw the relic.

The church houses a venerated relic of the Holly Blood

The Relic was on display for 2 hours each day.

allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea  and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders in the 12th century. The basilica in Burg Square consists of a lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel, dedicated to St Basil the Great, is a dark Romanesque structure that remains virtually unchanged. The venerated relic is in the upper chapel, which was rebuilt in the Gothic  style in the 16th century and renovated in the 19th century in Gothic Revival style.

Modern sculpture honoring the carriage horses of Bruges.
I have NO clue why I took this picture on the side of this van but who would expect a surfboard craftsman to be in Bruges?

Now it was time for lunch, a little shopping and a cold beverage.

The group along the way with our guide, Jasmine.

Our break was in the Market Square – a large area with a fountain in the center and lots of restaurants around.

Horse drawn carriages ready to go.
Proof we were at the Market Square in Bruges!

Buildings around the square included Stadhuis (City Hall and a 13th century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and 272-foot tower with panoramic views.

Here’s our group after our tour.

After lunch we headed back to our coach passing ,more interesting buildings, bridges and waterways. All in all a beautiful day to visit this historic town.

4-3-19 Brussels Walking around and learning the City

On Sunday (3-31) we dropped off our rental car and took a flight from Bordeaux to Brussels. The flight was only an hour or so but the change in temperature was almost 15 degrees. We landed around midday and the wind was blowing but the skies were clear. Eventually we figured out we needed to take a shuttle (bus) into the city. Once we got there, the taxi guys were unwilling to take us to the hotel – it was only 900 meters or so and they wouldn’t have made any money from us. So off we went pulling our three bags towards our hotel.

After 900 meters (or thereabouts) we did find the hotel – Be Manos – a family owned place really geared towards the business community but also part of the Best Western chain. We were upgraded to a superior room that was nice – largish sitting room with separate bedroom.

We had decided that the first thing we would try and do is the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tour of the City.

On our bus tour!

We splurged and bought the two-day pass thus allowing us to take both the Blue line

Janeen on our first day on the bus tour.

and the Red Line.

Here’s David!

The first day out was beautiful – clear blue skies with a high around the upper 50’s or so. From our hotel it was about 1.4km so we walked it finding our way along various business and residential streets until we ended up at the Grand Place. One interesting stop was the Pasionaria – a megaphone for migrants.

Janeen giving a shout out to the community.

This permanent artistic installation represents a monumental mouthpiece from which you can give a shout out to the City.

The Museum of the City of Brussels.
The Grand Place, towards the King’s House
From right to left- Le Roy d’Espagne, La Brouette, Le Sac, La Louve, Le Cornet, Le Renard. Starbucks is on the first floor of the third bldg from the left.
From right to left- Le Cerf, Joseph et Anne, L’Ange, La Chaloupe d’or, Le Pigeon, Le Marchand d’or
From right to left- L’Étoile, Le Cygne, L’Arbre d’or, La Rose, Le Mont Thabor

The Grand Place is the central square of Brussels and is surrounded by opulent guildhalls as well as the city’s Town Hall and the King’s House.

Here we are in the Grand Place

This is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. On our visit it was not very crowded and we found a Starbucks for some coffee. Along the way to the Grand Place we did find Mannequin Pis.

Manneken Pis dressed for graduation with Mortar Board hat and logo uniform.

Manneken Pis is a landmark bronze sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed and put in place between 1618 or 1619. The current statue is a replica that dates from 1965 – the original is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels.

A saxophone for Manneken Pis on the 200th birthday of Adolphe Sax 2014
Manneken Pis dressed as Dracula

The day we arrived it had on a Cap and Gown costume. It seems this guy has over 900 different costumes and they are rotated as per a schedule posted on the gates every few days.

Proof we were there!

Once we found the tour bus, we climbed to the upper level and started our Blue Line tour. This is the longer tour, parallel to the industrial Port Canal at the start and end.

The Ixelles Ponds are two freshwater ponds in the Brussels municipality of Ixelles.
Another view of the ponds of Ixelles.

After crossing over and heading north, the scenery improved, next to the royal forest and Parc de Laeken, residence for the royal family. After circling around the

Atomium – built for the 1958 Worlds Fair

Atomnium sculpture, constructed and installed in 1958 for the Brussels Worlds Fair, and now a museum, we headed south again toward the Basilica and Parc Elizabeth

Flagery Place Art Deco architecture
Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral

which acts as a mall to the church.   The Blue Line tour on a sunny day produces different views than the Red Line tour on a cloudy day, but the photos tell the story.

Basilica on the hilltop looking down the mall
World War I memorials in Europe are much more dominant than in the new world.
Waffle House – everything you could ever want could be put on top of a waffle.
Too many choices.
Museum with Brugel paintings and other regional artists
The Musical Instruments Museum is a music museum with over 8,000 instruments. The building was a Department Store , iron art deco design
A street musician just across from the Music Museum.
It was great walking along these streets on the way to post cards.
This is the Hall of Justice – the entire building was covered with scaffolding.
The Triumphal Arch and its perfectly symmetrical colonnades in the Parc du Cinquantenaire
Just one of a number of streets we zipped along on the bus tour.

Of course we had to eat while we were doing all this touring.

Janeen having a few mussels with Belgian Frites
Chez Léon Restaurant Family-owned restaurant, established in 1893, known for regional cuisine including mussels & fries.- lovely meal here.
Janeen checking out the menu, which included Chimy Trappist Belgian beer
They were kind and de-boned the sea bream for me.
Black and White sausages with apple and potato and beer
Waffle Dessert – couldn’t wait to take the picture dug in immediately.
View of the kitchen and our waiter’s backside.

Next up a visit to Bruges by coach and then on to Amsterdam by train.

3-30-19 La Cité du Vin and Lillet

Our last few days in Bordeaux have been beautiful – clear skies, mild temps and NO crowds. On Friday we visited La Cité du Vin – interactive exhibits, displays and information, all around the theme of wine.

La Cité du Vin is shaped like a wine carafe and was completed in May of 2016.

First off, the building is 8 stories tall and includes restaurants, bars, seminar spaces, a library and two floors of wine information – not really a museum but more of an interactive wine education center. All this is contained in a swirl of glass and gold and silver metal, rounded like a wine decanter. Nearly the entire globe is covered and you need several hours (we spent about 6 altogether) to go thru the entire museum.

Map of all the displays in the La Cité du Vin

Media images and the quality of the exhibitions is fantastic. Wearing the headset allows you to hear everything in your native language.

The things on the right gave information on ALL grape varietals while the stuff in the middle had videos about various wine regions and wine makers and the area on the right was a video showing vineyards around the world.

In addition to the wine information there was a special exhibit about glassware – with a focus on wine- during our visit.

Not sure what you do with this but it was beautiful.
Metal and glass Ariadne & Bacchus
Glass sculpture
You can really get your nose into these glasses

Both exhibits were well worth the cost and time spent.

We broke up the “learning experience” by going to the seventh floor for lunch at Le 7. This place has a fantastic view of Bordeaux along the La Garonne River and the Pont Jacques Charles Demas Bridge.

The view of the Pont Jacques Charles Demas Bridge. The center section lifts to allow cruise ships to pass under.

We had our lunch on the outside terrace to enjoy both the views and the breeze. As you can imagine, this place has an extensive wine list but we limited ourselves to one bottle of Taittinger Brut Champagne.

Enjoying bubbles at lunch.
The interior of the restaurant wasn’t so bad either.

Continuing our tour of the wine experience we didn’t finish

Interactive displays, passive stuff and generally LOTS of information
This is a Georgian wine maker describing how he makes wine. They make the wine in these clay pots from start to finish. The pots are put in the ground for a long time to age.
The sensory table had stations where you could smell various items to get an understanding of their particular smell. It was very well done.
Janeen getting a smell of something.

up until close to 5:30, as we needed to get to the 8th floor for our complementary glass of wine. The 8th floor is for those who have paid the price for the wine experience and they give you a glass (I’m sure you could buy another if you wanted) from a selection of about 10 French wines as well as wines from 8 or 9 other countries! It was not easy to choose, but Corsica, Greece, Spain and Brazil were tried.

The following day we drove to Podensac – about 53km from our apartment to visit and taste Lillet.

One of many advertisements they had displayed

Lillet is a French aperitif and is technically not a wine – it is 85% Bordeaux region wines (Semillon for the Blanc and the Rosé and Merlot for the Rouge) and 15% macerated “secret herbs”, mostly citrus and quinine bark, liqueurs.

It was interesting to see the range of bottles on display.
Emma at display reflecting all the items that the Brothers Lillet sold over the years.

This ends up being 17% alcohol, a bit higher then most wines for sure. Our tour was in French, but all of the information was printed in English along the way.

Here we are with our guide Emma. She did a great job giving us the history of Lillet.

Lillet has been made basically with the same ingredients since 1887 in the same place. They source the finished wine from various places throughout Bordeaux, but the bulk of it is Semillon. Our guide, Emma, was able to answer questions and share experience in English as well.

After our tour, we cruised over to Cadillac

The City Gate in the small village of Cadillac.

for an al fresco Menu de Jour at L’Entrée Jardin, and walked through city center to post a card. David programed the GyPSy to take us on the green and blooming back roads back toward Bordeaux. Not only is wisteria in full bloom everywhere, and Janeen had her first lilac sightings, both white and lilac.

Janeen getting her wisteria fix.



3-27-19 Bordeaux and Château d’Yquem

Bordeaux – our next stop on the adventure is the current home of Ryan and Chris. We had rented an apartment not far from the center of the city and we connected with them as we coordinated with the Owner for access. It’s a two-bedroom place on the third floor – no view to speak of but it includes parking which is a must.

The view from our apartment

We have been in Bordeaux previously so we have already visited many of the significant sites.

The blue “Lion” of Stalingrad Square is 10 years old and has become a photo icon.
The Stone Bridge across the river

Our goal here was to visit with Ryan and Chris, eat a few nice meals

Ryan at a lovely spot for lunch.

and venture down to Sauternes to sample Château d’Yquem.

Of course there are open markets and we tromped around a couple just to see what is out there.

Janeen looked but didn’t find anything to bring home.
OK, there is a lot of stuff available here.

It amazes me the amount of stuff that gets put out at one of these markets. There were tables and tables of old photographs, silverware, furniture, lamps, clothing, door hardware, books, bottles of all sizes – an amazing assortment of things.

Another stop for a coffee break.
Another old church for sure.


Of course there was several different churches

It is good to see them cleaning the outside of the churches.

to go into, places to eat, shopping walkways (there is even an Apple Store)

Several of the main streets are pedestrian only which is nice. This is the LONGEST shopping street in France

to avoid and beautiful weather. We have been very fortunate, thus far, to be on the cusp of spring with clear skys and lovely weather (hopefully that will come with us as we venture north to Belgium and the Netherlands).

Enjoying the day along the river in Bordeaux

However, the one thing I had mentioned to Ryan I wanted to do was visit Château d’Yquem.

Enjoying the lovely weather in the “town square” of village of Sauternes – the center of the production area.

While Sauternes are certainly not the main adult beverage we enjoy, from time to time it is nice to have something different and Château d’Yquem is just that special thing.

Château d’Yquem has been around for a very long time – making wine the entire time.

The last time we were here the chateau was closed, as were many of the chateau in the district as it was May Day – a National Holiday.

The making of sauternes is not easy – the grapes basically have to be infected by a fungus – Noble Rot – grapes typically become infected with Botrytis when they are ripe.

If you look close, you will see a tiny bud break on this 45 year old plant.

When it is determined that it is time to pick, the crews go through the vineyards and only pick those grapes that are ready – this is very demanding, hand work and results in multiple passes through the vineyards.

Our guide and us on the stairs to the aging room at Château d’Yquem
Resting before the final blend.

As many as 5 or more different pickings can be required to get all the fruit from the vines during the season.

Once the grapes are picked it is a traditional wine making process – press the grapes, age the juice in oak barrels, blend to make the right flavor profile and bottle it. Château d’Yquem, as I’m sure most producers in the area, age the wine in barrel (new French oak) for two years before making the final blend and bottling the juice. Needless to say all the labor involved results in some hefty pricing for the really good stuff. The average price for a standard bottle of Château d’Yquem is over $300 and goes even higher depending on the age of the bottle.

Our tour was enjoyable – visiting the aging caves, learning the history of the Chateau (another wine widow 19th century as in Champagne), seeing vines, a flower and herb garden –

Pretty flowers!
Smelling the wisteria in the garden at Château d’Yquem

but of course the final stop – the tasting room was the highlight. We tasted both the still (non-sweet white wine they make, also very pricy) as well as the 2017 vintage of the good stuff. It was quite nice and a second pour was offered and accepted!

I would be happy to take home one of these – the 15 liter, the one on the left, sells for over $7,000.

Along the way we have had some great meals and more to come. We are in Bordeaux for another few days flying to Brussels on Sunday.

3-22-19 Gardens around Sarlot

After we completed our adventure in Avignon and Saint Remy, we needed a direction to go. Having received several recommendations from friends to visit the New Aquitaine region and more specifically to visit cave paintings, we headed for Sarlot in the Perigord area close to the Dordogne River.  Spring weather, however, changed our days in the Dordogne Region to garden adventures instead of caves as the Lascaux caves have been carefully reproduced for touring, but the actual caves are closed to protect them and the small tram that allows visitors to view the actual painted walls at Rouffignac does not start up until April we shifted gears and went to two different gardens. No regrets.

Proud as a peacock is a phrase from resident of Perigord, so Marqueyssac cock shows off for 3 hens

Marqueyssac gardens perched on sandstone cliffs above the fertile valley of the Dordogne overlooks

View of sandstone cliffs and Dordogne river

Beynac castle, Fayrac and Castelnaud and was abloom with fruit trees and green fields. Six kilometers of shaded walks are lined with 150,000 boxwood trees and rockeries.

Sensuous spring green
yes, it really is this manicured

The topiary art maintained by 5 gardeners by hand offers surrealistic mounds and mazes as well as “stone blocks” near the mansion.

Feels green enough for St.Patricks celebration , oh, and equinox.
David thought this was really strange a Jurassic dinosaur purchased by estate owner to give perspective of how old the valley is . This was recovered from Wyoming!
My boxwood we had in Alhambra was only 40 years old, so I guess I couldn’t have pruned it into marshmallows

The Holm oaks, often limned in moss and lichen, are dark foliaged, and are the reason this is called Perigord Noir.

Janeen was ready to water the garden!
Which of the 5 gardeners gets to prune this terrace? Dordogne views in the distance
Shape matters
Stone block “chaos” under remaining Holm oaks overlooking the mansion at Marqueyssac
stone block topiary which inspired the blocks of Marqueyssac

Returning to Sarlat, center of Perigord Noir, we dined on duck, foie gras, confit, grilled duck breast, and strolled past multiple shops with shelves lined with goose liver. One of the things David had wanted to do was visit a geese farm – alas we couldn’t find any that were open and had an English tour – darn.

When a second day of warm spring weather, blue skies and sunshine greeted us, David wound his way across the back roads of Perigord Noir to Eyrignac Gardens,

Information in English, surrounded by the six other visitors that arrived with us, which did not increase

privately owned estate for 22 generations. Bright green carpets of lawn are edged with gravel paths to let one wander the 200-hectare estate viewing 6 gardens.

one of walkways across lawn carpet, leading away from “resting” signature alley

The defining walkway of yew and hornbeam pruned into architectural shapes was in “recovery” mode.

Hornbeam and Yew arcade during a “rest” before spring budding
Hornbeam and Yew sculptures at height of excellence

It required a postcard to in vision.

French garden controlled by pruning

Formal French gardens are adorned with topiary, benches set in meditative alcoves, and 17th century water features.

Cypress topiary and water feature
collection of non native trees enclosed with boxwood bollards
Hedge around central daffodil filled fountain includes “windows” into the view of the spring green valley

Italian influence is also viewed down an arcade of terra cotta planters and overlooking this arcade, a small English “natural” garden that leads to the family chapel.

Janeen misses the camellias of southern California
former dog kennels with “typical” fieldstone shingle roof

The White Garden, newest of developments, is entered through a crimson Tori gate and graced with multiple fountains, including bronze frogs.

Garden joy for five decades
White Garden with bronze frog fountain and spring white blooms

Seasonal hyacinth, tulips and narcissus defined spring White. Red viewing benches overlook the topiary farmyard, espalier orchard in process, and four meadows: wildflowers, grape varietals, decorative grasses, and “roaming square” being planted.

Espalier apple blossoms in orchard garden
Farmyard squirrel with regional walnut in paws
Farmyard topiary guard dog on alert near White Garden

Both of these gardens were a joy to visit and we had them virtually ours to explore without anyone around. There “might” have been 3 other couples in the garden while we explored.

While we didn’t get to either of the historic caves, we certainly had a wonderful time staying in Sarlat and venturing out to the surrounding villages.

3-18-19 Carcassonne a Medieval walled city

Carcassonne – A medieval city in the south of France was our next stop. This medieval walled city sits in the luscious valley of the Aude River – the gap between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central mountains of southern France. Slate roofs glint in the sun atop 13th century towers that dominate the horizon.

Carcassonne from the valley side.

Surround by mountains and vineyards this fortified city surrounds 2500 years of history. Carcassonne became identified when the Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC. Over the next 1000 years or so it continued its prominence. In 1067 it became the property of Raimond-Bernard Trencavel the viscount of Albi and Nimes. Located along the then French boarder with Spain, it was a central spot for defense of the region. In 1659 this all changed. The Treaty of the Pyrenees moved the boarder well south and Carcassonne’s military significance was greatly reduced.

The Chateau on the left was only accessible from the “bridge” so easily defensible
Here is proof we were here!

The fortifications were abandoned and left to decay. Napoleon basically struck Carcassonne off the map when he declared it not worth caring for. This caused such an uproar that the local mayor convinced the Inspector of Ancient Monuments to reconsider and Carcassonne was made a historical monument allowing it to receive funds and be restored.

The use of internal Wells and food storage is reminiscent of Moorish fortification more than Western Europe or Roman construction, including the double walls.

More winding streets
Narrow streets with little shops

Shops provide child size shields, swords, helmets and other fantasy of the knight objects. The actual Knights who chose this fortification were cruel defenders of the Inquisition of the Cather’s, a religious group which questioned Papal authority, or rampaging armies who sought land and wealth for smaller kingdoms. (Battle of Crecy).

One of of the 52 towers around the place.

Despite the 1659 border change, the Catalan/Spanish influence remains in the language of visitors, the food specialties, and the Pyrenees visible on a clear day.

The Chateau, which has tours, was closed, for a workers strike, very French.
The Outer wall and Inner wall with a no-mans space in the middle.

Carcassonne is the second most visited National Monument of France, right behind Mont Saint Michel, which we visited in December.

Basílica of Saint-Nazaire
Beautiful stain glass at both ends of the place.

The stained glass in the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire is dazzling, even on an overcast day.

There were a bunch (meaning a lot) of these gargoyles drooling water on the misty morning
All the stain glass had lovely depictions of religious scenes.
This was one big bell just sitting there.
Can you just imagine all the fire and brimstone that came from this pulpit?
Huge organ.

The Museum of schools offered an opportunity to try out the pen and ink,

Front of the School Museum
Janeen practicing with a pen and ink
Janeen in her element
This was the first of two classrooms we visited.

and the class pictures were reminiscent of photos of farm schools such as my father attended in the 20s and 30s, with all ages lined up in one room.

Janeen loves her flowers.
Just a selfie of us walking around.
The main drawbridge into the place.

We chuckled a bit at the sign on the Chateau, closed for the day.

Figures, the one day I come to visit the Chateau and ramparts the place is closed.

3-17-19 Saint Remy and Isle-sur la-Sorgue

Ten years ago we completed our first riverboat cruise that ended in Arles. After we got off we actually had to go back to Avignon to pick up our car (rental place was closed on Sunday in Arles) and cruised to Saint Remy to stay at L’Hotel Sous les Figuiers – The hotel under the fig trees. This nice little place has only 14 rooms and it seemed like a good place to return while we were in the area.

Front of our room – room #5.

Saint Remy has a population of about 10,000 and a lovely city center. After we arrived, and before we checked in to our Hotel, we stopped at the Tourist Office to check out the Van Gogh Walk.

Metal disks in the pavement marked the path to follow.

This is about a 1KM walk that starts in the City Center and ends at the psychiatric institution. Over the course of the walk there are some 20 stops to learn about various paintings

One of the signs along the Van Gogh walk.

that he did while in Saint Remy and to view a representation of the actual locations. It was a pleasant walk and we learned quite a lot about Vincent’s time in Saint Remy.

Olive grove and Van Gogh painting of the olive grove.

When we got to the hospital (still in use) we couldn’t figure out how to visit his actual room so we headed back to the city center for some lunch.

Main square and fountain in Saint Remy
Old stone buildings and narrow streets

After lunch, we headed to our Hotel and were greeted warmly by new Owners. Seems writing something on the reservation about coming back 10 years after our first visit to celebrate our 50th anniversary pays off! When we got into the room (the same one we had 10 years ago) there was a chilled half bottle of champagne! Very nice.


The following day, after a Petit déjeuner breakfast, we headed out to the markets of Isle-sur la-Sorgue.

One of many of the canals in Isle-sur la-Sorgue
Market and restaurant across the canal

This village is famous for its market with LOTs of vendors selling just about anything you could want. We wandered around for a couple of hours but were restricted from buying anything (Where would we stow it?)

Jewelry all over the place.
Bowls, trays lots of pottery
Always wine of course
Oils, soaps all with a Provence theme.

Do  we carry it around for the next 2 months in Europe?) So we bought only some olives, and other consumables. At one part of the walk we were clearly in more of the ‘flea market’ area with tables covered with all kinds of stuff – dishes, door hardware, old post cards, clocks, furniture and LOTs of things.

Need an old world globe?
Trench art – shell casing carved.
We were tempted to get a train that spelled out our granddaughter’s name but it would have been way too long!
Dried fruits, garlic, onions
Antiques and other knick knacks abound.
I decided not to pick these up for Jason.


Our stay in Saint Remy and the visit to Isle-sur la-Sorgue were both very pleasant.

Starbucks – self serve station at a car stop along the road to Carcassonne.



3-15-19 Avignon

Avignon – our next stop on this adventure. Avignon is on the Rhone River and we visited here while on a River Cruise in 2009. It was July when we were here and it was HOT and it was the peak of the annual Avignon Festival. This Festival has been going on since 1947 and showcases all kinds of entertainment – all of which spills out onto the streets of this small town and made our visit difficult. This time, being in March, the town is quiet – not a lot of tourists and the weather is lovely.

Avignon has a little more than 90,000 residents (FYI, Alhambra, where we lived for 40 years has about the same number) and has been around for a LONG time. Between 1309 and 1377 Avignon was the residence of the popes – seems there was some political problems in Italy and Pope John XXII moved there and started construction of the Palace in 1316.

Here we are at the Popes Palace
One section of the Pope’s Palace

Construction continued by succeeding popes through the 14th century with the Palace being completed in 1370. The historic center, which includes the Palace of the Popes, the Cathedral and the Pont d”Avignon became a UNESCO site in 1995.

The Ramparts, built by the popes in the 14th century still encircle Avignon. They are one of the best examples of medieval fortifications still standing. Originally it had 39 massive towers with several gateways.

More city wall with one of the towers.
Part of the walls an a tower around the City.

Much has changed but the walls still remain a tribute to the strength when the popes  were in residence.

We spent three days exploring, visiting museums, riding the mini train and generally having a very relaxing time.

On the mini train.
You get on the mini train in front of the Popes Palace. Ride was about an hour and well worth it.

One of the first things we discovered was the free parking lot that had a free bus into the city center! That certainly solved the parking problem and made the visits much more relaxing.

Most of the streets are narrow and provide for one-way traffic only.

Some of the narrow streets of the town. No cars on this street, which was nice.

Shops range from the local neighborhood stores providing basics for those that live near by to larger markets towards the city center.

Just a lovely place to sit and relax for sure.

Quite close to where the bus dropped us off, was Les Halles – a large indoor market that offers fresh produce,

Vegetables at the market.

meats and fish along with a variety of other goods. On the outside of the building is a “green wall” with some very mature plants. Beautiful.

Les Halles – green wall on the outside of the building
Saw this at a street market, I was going to buy this for Claudia but couldn’t figure out how to ship it to Morro Bay!

We went to the Popes Palace but didn’t go it.

Another view of the Popes Palace – large square in front holds celebrations including the summer Arts Festival

It is a huge 14th century building and we have been into large places with lots of rooms before, so it didn’t have a huge pull to get us inside. Plus any of the original furnishings are long gone so it’s really just a big building with lots of rooms.

On the river side of Avignon is the Pont d’Avignon. The original bridge, built in 1171 by a shepard in answer to a vision went across the river for a length of almost 3000 feet. Unfortunately, over the years, various troubles impacted the bridge and the river has destroyed much of it either during various battles or and it was abandoned in 1669. However, a section still juts out into the river and was made famous a French song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon – On the bridge of Avignon in the mid 19th century.

Pont d’Avignon from above.
Pont d’Avignon from across the river.

On the recommendation of our friends Tony and Gloria we booked into a restaurant called Les 5 Sens (The 5 senses). It took a bit of hunting to find the place as it is situated off a clothing shops street in what might have been a patio in earlier times.

Front of the restaurant

To make things more difficult, the entire street was closed off with all the shops putting sales racks on the sidewalks and lots of people about.

Janeen doing some shopping

It was well worth finding, as the meal was wonderful – see pictures.

Our starter  celeric and tonka soup.
Saint Jacques, Scallops, rice from Camargue, sorrel mousse
Guinea fowl and Pithivier pistachio, mushroom, spinach and juice
Monk fish in salted butter, bisque tagliatelle, seaweed condiment
Braised pork, spelt pilaf style, carrots caramelized with rosemary, short juice
Chocolate, crispy pecan, mandarin, coffee ice cream
Lemon curd eclair with meringue Limoncello 


All in all we had a nice visit and now it’s time to head on down the road.

3-9-19 Antibes and Michelin Restaurant

On Saturday Ryan and Chris few in from Bordeaux to spend a couple of days with us and explore the area. After picking them up from the airport in Nice we ventured to Antibes. Antibes is one of many Mediterranean resorts along the coast. Situated between Cannes and Nice, the place sticks out into the Mediterranean and has a long history.

After finding a parking place, we wandered through the old town taking in the views, visiting the Market and generally having a lovely time. As with all villages and towns the old section is filled with lovely winding streets, colorful buildings, small shops and hidden treasures.

Old for sure
Just another street
This market had books and household items.

Walking through the market, it is always a colorful experience. Fresh fish, meats, cheeses, spices, flowers all the things you need. For some reason I am always drawn to the display of spices.

Cheese – lots of cheese
Cruising the Market
Fruits, vegetables, other produce
Spices – very colorful
Herbes ready to scoop and take home.

After a tasty lunch we walked along the coast taking in the views of the water and beaches.

Along the water at Antibes
The beach at Antibes

Once we were done with Antibes, we headed back to Vence to the apartment to get ready for dinner at The Bacchanles Restaurant. This is a one star Michelin place very close to our apartment. If we had walked it would have only been about 10 or 15 minutes (but a LOT of up and down) so we drove. No big deal. We arrived about 15 minutes before our reservation and relaxed prior to heading to our table.

The greeter looking for handouts.

I was unaware that Ryan and Chris had never been to a Michelin Star Restaurant. It was great to see their reaction to the place.

The restaurant is small – maybe 24 seats – as we entered the place it was clear there is a relationship with local artists. Modern art was displayed throughout the lobby and again upstairs around the dining room.   Welcoming us as we came up the stairs was an older golden lab – must be the Owner’s dog as he just hung out in the dining room the entire time hoping for a treat to find its way to the floor for him to clean up.

The food and presentation where outstanding.   Our reservation was for 7:30 and I don’t think we left much before 11 – just about right for a Michelin star restaurant in my opinion. Each of us had several amuse bouche, a couple of starters and at least one main plus dessert.

Fish from the med with pistachio glaze
Cheese course – roasted goat cheese with greens
Fish course
Cuttlefish, sea urchin, potato
Roasted cabbage with fava beans
Duck for the soup

Percorino with ham
Little “mushroom” cap treats
Bread with a pesto sauce

All in all it was a delightful evening and a treat to show Ryan and Chris was a Michelin star restaurant is all about.

Chef Christophe Dufau