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Posts tagged ‘France’

Europe comes to an end

We’ve now been away a total of 201 days, 177 days have been spent in Europe,

We’ve been from London to Turkey
(not New York to Rio, like Peter Allen ☺).

We’ve covered 14 countries; some we just passed through, others we explored in detail.

England / France / Italy / Serbia / Croatia / Bulgaria / Turkey / Greece / Montenegro / Slovenia / Austria / Switzerland / Germany / Spain

A few of the highights:

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Driven over 20,000km, no parking tickets or speeding fines (we know of). No car accidents – just 1 flat tyre.

Nothing lost, nothing broken and the worst illness was a stomach bug for a few days.

Cheapest accommodation: €15 a night on Leros
Most expensive: €160 a night in Paris

CPI (Coffee Price Index): most expensive €4.50 in Venice, the cheapest €0.50 in Berane, Montenegro

WCP (Wine Consumption Price): most expensive was £9 for a glass of champagne in London, the Cheapest in France (of course), €4 a bottle.

Best meal:  Hard to say, we’ve had so many; from eating a home cooked meal with the family in Guzelyurt, to fine dining at Le Gabriel in Bordeaux, enjoying the local Fête’s in France or simply cooking with fresh ingredients from the markets. I don’t think we’ve had a bad meal.

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We’ve met some wonderful people along the way. The added pleasure and delight, has been those friends and family who joined us; whether it be for a dinner, a weekend or a few weeks: Ross and Kate, Katrina, Helen and Rod, Bruce, Penny, Dale, Leeanne, Elisa and Ian, our Niece Claire and my sister Jane.

As well as visiting and enjoying the generous hospitality of the Ryan’s in Switzerland, Andrea and Margit (her Mum) in Austria, and the Brown’s in London.

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So far, the Callander capers have been amazing.

Best of all, we are still talking to each other…..most of the time!!

We still like each other!

We still like each other!

Lyon

Lyon is our final destination on the (Continental) European leg of our trip.

I’ve done well by finding a gorgeous little B&B, 8km from the centre of town.

Thanks again to chambresdhotes.org, Villa Cazot is a lovely home, just 8km from the centre of town.

We arrive in time to enjoy afternoon tea in the garden, catching the last warm rays of the sun.

Lyon has been claimed by many to be the gastronomic capital of France, some so bold to claim the world.  We are going to see what all the fuss is about. Don has picked a restaurant with good reviews for dinner called La Gargotte.

We head back into town planning to have a look around and maybe a pre-dinner drink somewhere. Well, after a horrendous battle through Lyon traffic (the 8km takes over an hour), we just make it to the restaurant in time for our booking.

Word of advice: don’t drive in Lyon, if you can avoid it.

Dinner La Gargotte

Dinner La Gargotte

Arriving at La Gargotte, we are greeted by the owner. It turns out to be Croatian – an affable, over excited character who I think is louder than even Don can be after a few drinks.

His enthusiasm for the menu is contagious and he explains in detail the ingredients in each item.

Leaving us to contemplate, he then passes via our table with someone elses meal, so we can view our options. I think he would even have let us taste it if we’d asked.

The presentation and flavours are delicious, each course is just the right size, to allow enough room for dessert. It was a superb meal and I would recommend to anyone – spend time in Lyon just for the food!

By-the-way; our journey home is nearly as long, even at 10:30pm the traffic struggles to move through Lyon.

The next day is a slow one, we don’t head off to explore Lyon until 11am, opting to take the bus rather than endure the stress of driving and parking.

Perched 2km above the city is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.  It looks like a daunting climb, but we couldn’t not visit- at the time, Jane and Don thought otherwise.  We stop for pancakes on the way to give us a good reason to continue our hike up the hill.

The view from the top makes the effort worthwhile, the inside of the Basilica even more so.

The site has held religious significance dating back to the 12th Century, the current church was built in the late 1800’s; dedicated in 1896. Perched above the city is provides a spectacular vista over Lyon.

The inside is just as impressive, if not somewhat excessive; a richly decorated interior of gilt, marble, stained glass and mosaic murals. It stands out as one of the most opulent churches we have seen.

In general, Lyon is not an attractive city, it has nothing on Bordeaux or Paris. However, give it time. Significant restoration works are underway, along with new (and controversial) modern developments like the Musee de Confluence – it looks like a spaceship.

The Musee is located in what once was the seedy part of town. The right blend of new with old should bring about a much more cosmopolitan city.

We had skipped lunch and after returning to our B&B, we head out for a dinner locally.  We really didn’t want to drive far, even parking in the suburbs is a challenge.

As Don struggles to reverse into a narrow spot, the elderly Frenchman in the car behind, kindly says he will move his car back.  He keenly assists us print a parking ticket for the car and I’m sure he even intends to watch the car for us whilst we eat.

The recommendation provided by the teenager daughter of the B&B, turns out to be a pizzeria – what would you expect from a teenager!  No one else had been home at the time.

It’s not really what we had in mind for our last French hurrah.  We scout the town (passing our car and we are sure we see the Frenchman).

Dinner options are not looking good.  We ask in the local Cave (wine shop), also intending to purchase a couple of bottles (if all else failed we could end up with red wine and chocolate for dinner).

Of course, good fortune is on our side (we have Jane with us); he not only recommends a restaurant 10 min away, he calls them and makes a reservation for us.

Le Crouton does not disappoint and perhaps exceeds La Gargotte.  Don and I went all duck with Foie Gras followed by Duck Magret, a fitting last French meal.  Jane opted for the beef which was also mouth-watering delicious.

It was a fitting last supper; having dined our way through 13 countries, the French cuisine is our favourite, it never fails to impress. The Greeks and Italians are both a close second. But, I decline from commenting further.

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3 x 3

The three of us have three weeks to travel, we have a vague plan to cover three Countries; Germany, Austria and a bit of Italy.

‘Derek’ our Renault Captur, who had looked after us so well for 153 days and some 18,750KM, was left behind in Paris to begin a new life – probably one at a more casual pace.

We take the TGV to Strasbourg, a relaxing 2 hour journey across to the eastern border of France.  We are collecting new wheels tomorrow and overnighting in Strasbourg.

Finding the small town remarkably expensive, I took a gamble and booked another Airbnb. Greeted by the owner on arrival, Jane and I take a rattle lift up to the third floor whilst Don and our host take the stairs (they won’t fit in the lift).

The apartment is spacious with two bedrooms and a lounge room, all contain numerous beds – yes, including the lounge room.  I think the owner was surprised that there was only 3 of us and not 10!

Between pidgin English and pidgin French, the owner explains he needs to finish making the beds and cleaning-up. From the state of the kitchen – he’s got a bit of cleaning up to do!  Perhaps we set the benchmark too high at Pierrefonds. We leave our things and walk into the old town for lunch.

When we return, the place seems clean; sort-off, as long as we avoided eating in the kitchen we’ll be fine.  We could only find one coffee cup and took turns in the morning to share it around. Not trusting the cleaning effort, our showers are all very quick in the morning.

The positives are that it was well located – an easy walk from the train station and close to the historic parts of Strasbourg.  But, not somewhere I would recommend to anyone.

Jane asked us if this was the worst place we had stayed, without hesitation we both replied in unison “no-way, this is pretty good.”  I think we have her worried about what’s next.

Petite France is the heart of the old town, it’s straight out of a fairy tale; half-wooden houses line the canal, flower boxes adorn the buildings and explode with colour.  The area is bustling with Alsatian taverns, restaurants, boutique hotels and of course gift shops.

The cathedral is a striking feature of the town.  Construction started in 1015, though it was not completed until 1439. For over 200 years (until 1874) it was the world’s tallest building.

Strasbourg quickly became a prosperous merchant city, dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.  It is a town that has played a significant role in French – German relations throughout history.

Today, Strasbourg is a blend of franco-german culture and the host of several European institutions; including the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament.

In 1988 the entire city centre of Strasbourg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Jane is happy to be a passenger on this holiday, she has designated us as her “Secretaries”; relying on us for decisions on the next destination, sourcing accommodation (which she might now be a little nervous about), doing the driving and paying for everything along the way – don’t worry, she gets a bill at the end!

We are heading east to Passau where we plan to pick-up some bikes and do some cycling along the Danube.  Taking a couple of days to get there and explore a bit of Germany and Austria.  We’ve picked Füssen as our next destination and find a hotel online – we will leave the AIRBnB’s alone for a while.

We purchased a GPS in France only to find that the car includes one.  It’s in French, but we manage to get it working and at least we know tourner à droite and tourner à gauche to get us on our way!

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Paree!

I could bore you with a diatribe of how lovely, beautiful and wonderful Paris is.

But, Paris is a city you have to absorb; by sight, smell and taste, all on your own.

We had three glorious days to explore Paris.  We Stayed at the Best Western near Gare de Nord, nothing to rave about, it was convenient and clean.

We had two great dinners; the first at the traditional french Brasserie Flo, the second, more cutting edge french cuisine at Chameleon.

We took the city bus tour – a lazy way to see Paris.  It’s a great way to get orientated and see all the sites in a short amount of time.  We walked and walked, exploring the left and right banks.  You could spend months in Paris and still not have seen it all, we did well for three days.

I don’t think Paris can be adequately described in words (or, I am simply so far behind in this blog I’m taking the short track on this one). I’m going to let the pictures tell the story!

 

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Sister on Board!

We make it to Pierrefonds just in time to check-in with our hosts before they finish lunch and return to work.

I’ve booked our accommodation through Airbnb, so I am a little nervous about what we will get on arrival (due to past experiences) and particularly as this will be Jane’s first destination.

As we arrive, I’m confident the town is a good choice; the village of Pierrefonds sits in the shadow of one of the most striking Châteaux.  We pull-up outside the address and the Château is looming in the background.

The location is great and our hosts have recently renovated a 15th Century cottage on their property, our home for 3 nights.  Phew, we’ve chosen well!

Friday morning we drive the 60km to Charles de Gaulle to collect Jane.  It was touch and go whether she would make it, so I am relieved to see her come out through those airport doors, a little tired but excited to be in France!

The last time Jane was in Europe is in the 70’s, doing the typical right-of-passage as a young 20-something, backpacking around Europe and working in London. Her adventures took her to Russia and Afghanistan back then. This trip will be a little less adventurous.

After being in Europe for nearly 6 months, it’s refreshing to have someone onboard who is seeing things for the first time.

We’ve become a bit blaze about staying in 15th Century dwellings, but Jane is in awe and you do have to remind yourself to put things into perspective; when this place was built, Captain Cook wouldn’t discover Australia for another 300 years!

Pierrefonds is a lovely village, one of the best preserved we have been to (and we’ve seen a few).  A perfect first destination for anyone looking for quintessential France. The Château of Pierrefonds, dates back to the 12th Century.

It’s had a turbulent history and was partly demolished in the early 1600’s, remaining in ruins for nearly 2 Centuries. It was rescued by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III of France) and restoration began in the 1850’s.

Inside the Château there is a collection of larger-than-life figurines, know as the Collection Monduit, these lead castings were made by the same company that made the Statue of Liberty.  

Down in the crypt is a collection of tombs with plaster casts representing Noblemen and Women, Emperors, Countesses and other important figures in history, dating back to the 12th century.

In recent times, the Château has featured as a location for films such as Highlander and Joan of Arc, as well as the BBC series Merlin.

There is a superb bakery and deli in the village and Jane’s first meal is a feast of french baguette, cheese and foie gras, washed down with a bottle of french bubbly – of course!

We thought there had been a mistake when we paid €22 for a small 100 gm slice of foie gras. Don went back to question it, only to discover it was €240 per kg! It was superb and we savoured every mouthful.

We ease Jane into Europe time, exploring the surrounding villages of Compiègne (not much to say about it) and Chantilly, visiting the Château de Chantilly which is impressively grand.

The grounds, which include a racecourse, cover over 115 acres. The current Château was completed in 1881 and is home to the Musée Condé, one of the finest collections of paintings in France and an impressive library full of rare historic manuscripts and first editions.

So, Jane has quickly settled into our casual touring routine; it generally starts with a coffee and croissant for breakfast,  then take in a few sites, find a lunch destination, enjoy the plat-du-jour with a glass of red, a few more sites for the afternoon, or an afternoon nap perhaps!

Dinner is usually a lesser event consisting of some nibbles, maybe a salad and some more french red.

Next stop Paris.

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