A Travellerspoint blog

"This Other Eden"

This Week, This Realm, This England

semi-overcast 14 °C

Sunset in Stoford, our first night's stop in England

May 13


We've crossed over! Or under. We took the Eurotunnel (can't I call it the "chunnel?" We call our two-dollar coin the "toonie" in Canada, after all...). It was really weird to go under the English Channel on a train going 140 km/h while sitting in your car. Since we were the first car, when we exited it was like we were leading everybody into England: "Come on, everybody! Follow me, and let's drive on the left!"

The Eurotunnel: our car takes a train ride

Jenn and Anica were chanting "left left left" to remind me, and right away we were negotiating highway speeds, roundabouts, turns, and stoplights. We took the route across the south of England, and it was a beautiful day. We hugged the coast for a long time, passed WWII Home Defence bunkers, Hastings (William the Bastard again...oops, I mean Conqueror), and stopped to walk on a beach. A beach! This is England in the spring? Maybe not the usual. With a "scorching" temperature of 26 degrees, BBC radio was soliciting phone-in tips for how to "beat the heat" from its listeners.

So the weather isn't what we expected. But we were very pleased to be enjoying it, and were enjoying even more being able to understand the language being spoken, and being able to read every sign. Although - it must be noted - even the English haven't mastered English. We kept seeing signs for "Disabled Toilet."

Enjoying the drive so much, we decided to push on to the area of Salisbury. We stopped for lunch in a place called Icklesham, at a "freehouse" called "The Robin Hood." Very popular local spot, about 300 years old, a real find considering we passed right by it on the highway.

We are spending the night in Stoford, between Salisbury and Stonehenge, at a place called the "Swan Inn." Expensive, but in a pretty setting. We had dinner in their restaurant, and, again, it was way above average pub food.

May 14


Salisbury became the first town in England that we strolled around in, and, predictably, we couldn't resist going into a bookstore. All the books were in English! Ooooh. Aaaaah.

Then we "cooled off" (here's a tip for sweltering Brits) by going into the cathedral. There's lots of see in Salisbury Cathedral, including one of just four copies of the Magna Carta. It's in very good condition, although it won't be for long with the way they've got it displayed, sunlight streaming directly onto it. There's also the oldest working clock in Europe, so old it never had a face; it just chimes the hour. It wasn't a relaxing look around the cathedral for us, though, because Anica was so intent on completing the search sheets that the cathedral workers gave her that she nearly drove us crazy.

Stonehenge followed. Predictably, Anica thought that it wasn't much to look at. I agree. Unlike the intrinsic, awe-inspiring appeal of the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge has to be appreciated in context. It's probably the largest monument we've seen anywhere in the world that predates the Great Pyramids. It's also every bit as mysterious, and almost as exactly measured (especially with how Stonehenge functions as a calendar). Still, without the audioguide, it wouldn't be a long visit. You do get to come closer than I thought to the stones, and the crowds weren't huge today, so we had a pretty good time.

Much bigger than the ones Spinal Tap had

When I told Anica that Stonehenge is one of the most famous "World Heritage Sites," she said it wouldn't be one of her top ones. So I said, ok, if you could pick 10 places as your "Anica World Heritage Sites," what would they be? Thinking back over the trip, as we ate lunch at Stonehenge, here's what she listed:

Anica's World Heritage Sites (in the order she thought of them)
1) Pompeii
2) The Muslim Quarter in Xian
3) The Forum
4) The Great Pyramid
5) The Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum
6) Roman Amphitheatre of El Jem (Tunisia)
7) Roman ruins of Umm Qays (Jordan)
8) Summer Palace, Beijing
9) Cao Dai temple (Vietnam)
10) Sagrada Familia

Interesting choices! Let us know what you think!

From the Salisbury plains, it wasn't a long drive to the little town of Hullavington. We were slowed down by laneways marked "tank crossing" (which we had to take pretty seriously because we could hear the booms of firing tanks), and narrow roads enveloped by leafy green trees and hedges.

But we found it easily. Hullavington is the little village we're staying in for the next week. Really little. Their main street is called "The Street." It actually says that on the signs: "The Street." Then there's "Mere Avenue." Well, it's no street. There's also the shop. It has a name, but, still, it is the one and only shop. The fact that there's a nice pub says a lot about English village life too.

"So, go down The Street, and take a left on "The Mere Avenue"

May 15


The heat wave is over! Rain and much cooler today. But off we went, to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Practically a pilgrimage, really, to the birthplace of the Bard. The title of this blog entry is a Shakespeare allusion.

The thatched roof kept out the rain: Anne Hathaway's cottage

All of us enjoyed seeing the houses associated with Shakespeare. We started with Anne Hathaway's cottage. Parts of it date back to the 1400s. We also saw Shakespeare's birthplace, and two of the houses his descendants lived in. They're all staffed by soft-spoken, but engaging, people who almost casually tell you about the rooms. Even Jenn and I learned a lot, such as the origin of the phrases "sleep tight" and "upper crust." I can't think of anywhere where we've seen middle/working class homes that have survived. Shakespeare was already a tourist draw in the 1700s, so they've been preserved.

The gardens are beautiful, and the town in general is really picturesque and full of quirky old buildings. We got to enjoy Stratford on a day when it wasn't too busy. Even in Anne Hathaway's cottage, we were essentially given a private tour. It made us feel like we were the ones living in the homes. We also ate lunch at the Garrick Pub, the oldest in Stratford, which was pretty neat. We all had "jacket potatoes." A novelty for us, although I'm sure it won't be for long.

May 16


With rain again threatening, we set off today to nearby Avebury. What an incredible complex of prehistoric sites. Driving there, Jenn said, "Is that one of those prehistoric horses carved onto that hillside? I guess it is!" And it was. A huge white horse outline carved into the side of a hill. It could be mistaken for advertising, but, nope, it's about 4000 years old! Then she said, "Look at that barrow, could it be one of those prehistoric earth mounds?" And it was. It was Silbury Hill! The largest of all the mounds in Britain.

Avebury was more scattered than Stonehenge, but more fun, too. You walk through the village, among the stones in the various fields. You can touch them, lean against them (hug them? If you wanted to, but "no climbing"). You share the space with sheep. The Avebury stones are arranged like landing strip lights (see, it could have been aliens....). The rain held off, but the skies were threatening. Just the right look for our walk through the pagan countryside.

Isn't this the cover of a '70s progressive rock LP?

May 17


We haven't seen the sun for three days - now that's England! Yet, with no sign of rain either, we decided to make the drive to nearby Bath today. Bath is one of the few places on "Our Big World Trip" that Jenn and I have visited before. It's a prosperous, stately town (or small city), filled with identical-looking rows of Georgian townhouses, all with multiple chimneys. When we were here before, Jenn was pregnant, and her feet started hurting to the point that she sat down and cried. We never got to the "Royal Crescent" and Royal Victoria Park part of town then, so we started there today.

The Royal Crescent, Bath

Of course, we had to visit the Roman Baths. Anica again enjoyed a kid's audioguide AND visual search with a sticker sheet. They've done a great job updating this already world-class attraction. As we travel the world, it's usually either an awesome natural display or an incredible human construction that captures our imagination. In my opinion, the Roman Baths have both. The water you see there has taken 10,000 years since it fell as rain to emerge from under the earth. It gushes forth at the rate of over a million litres a day. The Romans built a series of drains to handle that flow of water - and they're still functioning two thousand years later. Amazing.

Bath time!

May 19


For a purely fun day out, we went to Longleat House (i.e. castle) today. It's practically been made into an amusement park in the last few decades. Apparently, the original noble owner probably would have whole-heartedly approved: he is described as greedy and cunning, and tried to get out of hosting Elizabeth I because it was too costly.

View from the centre of Longleat's Hege Maze

Present-day Longleat has one of the best hedge mazes in Britain. It took us over half an hour to find the centre! They have many other attractions (I've read Anica's diary about this, so I'll let her describe it). I will mention the "Safari." This is a drive-through experience like Ontario's "African Lion Safari." The lions were quite active, and passed right in front of our car. We wisely took the "no-monkeys" route, so our leased car wouldn't get trashed.

May 20


Our visit to the "Big Pit National Mining Museum of Wales" today was one of the coolest things we've done on this whole trip. First of all, to call it a "museum" is very misleading. Big Pit was a mine, perched on the side of a huge, barren hill overlooking a small Welsh town. Now you get a tour underground, conducted by a former miner. The guy who led our tour was very good, with a dry wit. His favourite saying was "maybe tomorrow." As in: "There are often dangerous gases in the mine tunnels. Not today, though. Maybe tomorrow." His little pauses, and deadpan delivery, were priceless. He took special interest in Anica, who, at age 8, was the age children became colliers before the 1842 legislation. In fact, from age 5 they worked in the mines, opening and closing the doors to the tunnels.

Speaking of school-age children, we were the only other people at Big Pit, other than four busloads of French students from Britanny. Their teacher translated the tour as we went, except for the parts where our guide suggested what we see in Scotland. Yes, he was a Welsh miner, but he sure loved his Scottish holidays!

So there we were, with hard helmets, head lamps, and (on our hips) portable gas masks, 90 metres down, seeing where the pit ponies were stabled, seeing how the miners worked, and hearing about it from a fifth-generation miner who was still working there when Big Pit closed in 1979. It had opened in 1815.

There was also a more typical "museum" display building, but also well-done. Miner's lockers are decorated with exceptional real-life stories. Even the "baths" area is left intact, to show what the miners went through to clean up.

Part of the complex of buildings at Big Pit Mine, Wales

Even more impressive was the multi-media building. It used a virtual guide who "talked" to us over a series of screens, leading us from room to room, each roaring to life with light and sound effects. That showed even more what kind of machines were used, and what kind of life it was. Amazing - and (even more amazing) - there is no cost for admission.

So, that's our visit to Wales. We may be back to see more, perhaps after Ireland, but if not, Big Pit made for an unforgettable day.

May 14


Today when we woke up we had a very good breakfast of bacon, eggs, cereal, toast, and drinks. Then we checked out of Swan Inn Stroford and drove to Salisbury (10 km away). When we got there we parked in a parking lot for the old George Mall.

We bought (in a bookstore) a Barbie Magazine for me, workbooks for me, and a guidebook for M & D. We also got pounds from a atm. Then we saw a beautiful Cathedrel. M & D got a pamphlet and I got a "Introduction to the animals of the Salisbury Cathedrel." It was really intresting and big too! We also saw the Magna Carta which was one of the choices on a t.v. show between the Bayeux tapestries! Then we drove to Stonehenge.

As we came over the hill and got our first glimpse at Stonehenge I asked: "Is that Stonehenge? I thought it was bigger!" I thought it was bigger actully! M & D laughed and laughed and laughed! We got audio guides for Stonehenge but I diden't listen to evrey section - probaly 4 out of 7. Though I did find the rocks very cool. for lunch I had a sausege roll, for Mum a sandwhich and for Dad a sandwhich. Then we drove to Hullavington and saw our lovely place then we got groceries, went home, hand humus, pita, olives, vegatables and chips for dinner, had my shower, G.N.! (P.S.) We went on the chunnel the day before thats how we got to England! Goodbye.

May 15


Today we went to Stratford. It was a long drive there and I did get motion sick (Gravol not taken). When we got there we drove to Ann Hathaways cottege (Ann Hathaway was Shakesperes wife - Stratford is Shakesperes birth place and home town). We got a book about all the Shakespere houses. Plus a guy gave a tour (a little one) for just us! He told us all about the living room before we headed towards the bedroom. Then we met the guy again and he told us about the kitchen. Then we had a lovely lunch at a inn called the Garrick Inn. Then we headed for Shakespere's Birthplace. We didn't have to by tickets because we had tickets that let us in to most of the houses. This women told us about the main living room before we saw the bedrooms on our own. It was very cool and there were this Canadian couple that looked Indian and were from near Richmond Hill. Then we moved on to Halls Croft where I got a quiz. It was a fun one of course like all the others. Then we saw Nash's House which was like the others! Then went home, had dinner, G.N.!

May 16


Today we went to Avebury. Avebury is a bit like Stonehenge but not world famous. It specialized in prehistoric rocks. When we got to Avebury we parked, payed 10 dollers (Canadian) to park in a parking lot. Then we walked into a town, walked onto a feild full of sheep poo and viewed the rocks. Avebury is diffrent from Stonehenge because in Avebury you view them in a town and can actually touch them and Stonehenge is a sight and roped off. After we saw Avebury we went a diffrent way home, had dinner, G.N.! P.S. The rocks were very beautiful and I found them way better than Stonehenge. Bye, gotta show Dad this one!

May 17


Today we went to Bath. It was not a very long drive but it was still about half a hour long drive. When we got there the first thing we did was park and see the Royal Victoria Park followed by the Royal Cresent. We alked around for a long time before finding a place called Cafe Hub which had free internet connection which let me do my diary and read. We when went to the Roman baths where I got a kids audio guide and they got a adult one. The tour was log but we got to find out a lot of stuff about the place. It was really intresting especially because they still had water in it! But it was really gross. I also did a family fun trail and got it corect which ment I got a certifacete. We then walked around a bit before deciding to drive home. Had dinner, G.N! P.S. G.N.!

May 19



Today we went to Longleat. Longleat is like a no ride amusement park. When we got there the first thing we did was park and do the maze. It was a really hard maze but there wern't many dead ends but a lot of choices but we finally made out way there and high-fived each other when we got there. Then we moved over to pets corner where we saw otters, guinea pigs, bunnys, etc! We also saw a show on parrots where they did: roller skating, soccer, basketball, driving, recycling, races and lots more! They were also really good at saying hello. (P.S. Before the Longleat hedge maze we went on a fun-railway train ride). Then we had lunch and di the safari boats! The seals came right up to us and we bought feed. Then we went to the Adventure Castle Playground and I went on three diffrent slides, two I had to sit on my fleece to make it the kinds I liked and the other one was good! I also liked the trampoline a lot! Then we went to King Arthur's Mirror Maze which I really liked. Then we went to the Safari. We saw lots of stuff before getting Indian food and taking it home! Had dinner, G.N.!

May 20


"Starting Work on Monday"

Today we wento into Wales to a place called Big Pit Coal Mine. It started out by getting on a big motorway (PS Canadians and Americans: Highway) M4, with a choice of South Wales and Bristol or London and Swindon. The bridge to Wales is huge! We then drove to tiny town Blanevon where the Big Pit Coal Mne was the signed. When we got there there was four big tourist buses carrying French students from Brittany. We were at the back of the line up nd the teachers told us to go with the first group! "Merci." we said hurrying to the front to go on the tour. Then we got fitted up in tool belts, head-protector helmets with lights attached and that's it! Then we took a very fun elevator ride going 2 meters per second. But it seemed fast. When we got down there the guy said ok now we are going to see the ponies stables. Everybody kept on bumping there heads! Exept me. The guy asked me are you starting work Monday. No I answered but I am eight. "Then take care of the ponies!" The tour went on pretty well but I laughed when Dad knocked out his light for the second time. Then we went up checked out some more stuff, went home, rested, had dinner, G.N.

Posted by jennrob 12:35 Archived in England Comments (8)

All in Le "Familly"

Normandy, France

sunny 24 °C

Approaching Mont St. Michel

May 5-6


On our way from Sarlat to Familly, France, we'd built in an extra night to stop along the way. We chose Chartres, for its famous cathedral. After about a 500 km drive on the superhighways of France (some of which are tolls), we checked into an Etap hotel, basically by an off-ramp, just outside of Chartres. We'd already seen the cathedral. From a distance, it's clearly visible, even before you can tell there's a town. That view's been unchanged for 900 years.

Etap gave us our lowest hotel room price in Europe. It showed. Anica had a single bunk bed above us, and there was a single light for the tiny room. For one night, though, it was fine.

Right away we drove into the centre of Chartres to check out the cathedral. Here was an instance where we felt a little burnt-out from sightseeing, and still having a let-down feeling after my Mom and Dad left. Anica was clearly not impressed with another cathedral, Jenn wasn't exactly oohing and aahing, and all I could do was muster up some enthusiasm I wasn't feeling at first, as in: this is the most famous medieval cathedral, this has more stained-glass windows than anywhere else, this church is older than Angkor Wat, etc.

Eventually, we grew to appreciate the distinct blue colour of the stained glass, the chapel with the veil of Mary, and the elevated pipe organ. Chartres will never be our favourite, though. What finally engaged Anica, who'd been cooped up in the car all day, was the Renaissance-era choir screen. I know, you're probably thinking: well sure, what kid wouldn't perk up at the sight of a Renaissance-era choir screen? Well, this is intricately carved in white marble, and follows the ambulatory path through 38 panels depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary. We played at guessing what each carving showed, and Anica knew many of the scenes.

Chartres Cathedral, with some of the ever-present scaffolding

Chartres is not that pretty from the outside, although gives the eye plenty to look at. We walked all around it, then through the town itself. There's some nice pedestrian-only areas. We bought Anica a French-vocabulary sticker book and a French magazine/activity book. She's been showing a real interest in learning and using French lately. We've been through so many countries, and she's been shielded from talking to strangers, but we've been dealing with French for a while now (also in Tunisia), so she's using some French phrases with other people and translating every sign she sees with us. In our school system, they start French classes in grade 4, which is what she'll be in next year, so it's great timing. Dinner was Tex-Mex. Okay, that's not exactly a "when in Rome" decision, but there's seldom an "ethnic" restaurant other than Italian in a French town, and this turned out really well. My chili con carne was exactly what I'd expect to get in the north of France from a chef who's probably never been to a "Lone Star".

When arrived the next in Familly - whoops! We couldn't actually FIND Familly, which despite its population explosion (it's over a hundred people at last count!) isn't on any map. Orbec is the nearest town at 8km away, so we eventually found the place by accident from there.

Rural France it is for one week. Very rural: seven kms from the nearest town, one-lane roads, surrounded by fields of cows. We're staying at a Gite, meaning an accommodation attached to the house of the owners. Here there's an acre lot, and, great news for Anica: two kids. A boy, 6, and a girl, 10. Before long, Anica had introduced herself and was playing with them and other kids from the neighborhood. We just let her do her thing, forgetting dinner and bedtime, as it's been a few weeks (!) since she's had other kids to play with.

May 7


The big trip from our home base today: Mont St. Michel. It's probably about 250 km from where we're staying. It was a beautiful day for it, today, so off we went. Here we proved fully recovered from any feelings of travel burn-out. Well, except for Anica who was exhausted from playing tag for hours last night!

Mont St. Michel is perhaps the most spectacular setting for a town we've seen anywhere in the world. We saw it first from 25 kilometres away, then all the way out the causeway. If you don't know it by name, you've seen it in pictures: the abbey spire at the top, a pyramid-shaped settlement seeming to float out in the tide. The parking lot actually warns you about the tide: remove your car by 19:30 of be underwater! It's the most dramatic tide-change in all of Europe, a 50 foot difference in depth.

Mont St. Michel, a little closer

We climbed up the single street of tourist shops, and paid to tour the abbey. It's been there almost a thousand years, and the cloisters, refectory, chapel, and ramparts are fascinating. The views over the mudflats are wonderful; with help from the natural rock, the top level of the abbey is about 500 feet above the water.

We took a different road back, more scenic, passing apple orchards in blossom (Normandy is cider country), churches of all shapes and sizes, rough-cut light-coloured stone houses with tiny windows, and the occasional giant road-side Crucifix sculpture. Miraculously enough, we didn't get lost, and even found our "gite" on the first try.

May 8


A trip to the English Channel (a mere ditch...) coast today: Honfleur, a quaint seaside town. May 8th is Victory in Europe day, so it's a holiday. A little veterans' parade came marching past us on the cobblestoned high street.

The harbour at Honfleur

Next we crossed a huge suspension bridge and continued on up the coast to where various cliffs are. We had a roadside picnic (there's always a "picque-nicque" spot in France), and eventually headed back after letting Anica poke around a rocky beach.

The way back was not as much fun, because we wanted to go a "different" way, then realized there's a reason for the big suspension bridge: the Seine is very wide near its mouth. We eventually found another bridge to cross, but by then we were dizzy from doing laps around traffic circles, hoping for magical new spokes to emerge. C'est le vie, as they might say here!

May 9


Wow - what a day we had! Bayeux and Juno Beach. First, Bayeux, parking by the cathedral and going to see the famous Bayeux tapestry. It's a 70 metre long linen cloth embroidered with coloured woolen threads. Done just after 1066, it tells the story, in 58 panels, of how William the Conqueror came to the throne, including depicting the Battle of Hastings. Not only is this a really cool primary source that any historian would love, it's got a lot of intrinsic appeal, too. Anica loved the whole set-up. Well sure, you're thinking: what kid wouldn't enjoy a fine medieval tapestry in a dark room on a sunny sunny day? That's even better than a Renaissance choir-screen, isn't it? At the Bayeux Tapestry museum, however, everyone gets an audio guide, and the kids get their own audio track. Anica thought that was great. Then there's a movie theatre where we learned more about its making and meaning. Then there' also a museum floor with models of the things the tapestry shows.

For me, the place was a definite highlight of our France visit. The tapestry itself was so lively and detailed that it was astonishing, given the fact it's close to a thousand years old. Horses are galloping, riders shown with their hair blown back, people looking cowardly, sneaky, or brave - it's a real story. It's often called the first comic strip, an apt, if somewhat diminishing, comparison. You walk around in a horseshoe, in a climate and light-controlled room. It is a unique historical artifact.

In the afternoon, we went up to the beaches of the D-Day landing. Unlike the Belgian Flanders, where the World War I battlesites and graveyards have become a dignified, almost organic, part of the countryside, Normandy seems commercial and somewhat crass. But, what can you do when a lot of people want to come? There are bound to be billboards and crass exploitation.

Canada was solely responsible for one of the five D-Day landing beaches, code-named Juno Beach. Five years ago, the Juno Beach Centre opened. It's a privately-funded museum, the idea of some former veterans. After all the times I've taught about Juno Beach, this was a must-see.

Sculpture outside the Juno Beach Centre

The Juno Beach Centre, although nicely done, lacks focus. Both Jenn and I noticed that it was about everything Canada did in World War II, including the homefront, which made us feel that the museum could have been anywhere. I thought it was like "Unit 3" of our Grade 10 textbook put up on walls. The displays should have been more about the Juno landing and the Battle of Normandy. The best part of the visit was the guided tour (the centre's staffed by Canadian university students), where we stood on the beach, peered into an "Atlantic Wall" bunker, and walked over the Nazi tunnels. If you're looking to visit just one Canadian site in France, however, both Jenn and I would recommend Vimy Ridge.

Hands-on History: Anica inside the Juno Beach Centre

More moving was the near-by Canadian cemetery. Understated and pretty, with (yes) maple trees growing, the graves are extremely well-tended. We happened across the tombstone of someone with my last name (which isn't very common). As far as I know, though, he's no relation.

Canadian war cemetery in Normandy

May 11


This has been the sunniest and warmest week - by far - we've had in Europe. Yesterday we just enjoyed hanging out at the "gite." Anica played for hours with the kids who live here.

Today we took a drive to the town of Falaise, which is known for having William the Conqueror's castle. This was before he was King of England, and he was getting pretty tired of being called "William the Bastard."

The castle is done up like none other we've seen. They've preserved what they could, then renovated and ultra-modernized the rest to make a high-tech tour. Visual projections complement an audio guide, and other post-modern artworks, to tell the various stories of castle life. "Chess" is a major theme and artistic motif. The whole thing runs automatically as visitors enter each room.

William the Conqueror's got a high-tech castlenow!

With great weather, and a pretty town at our disposal, we bought takeaway food for a picnic. We ate on the public park grounds of what used to be a noble's Chateau, and Anica played at the playground.

Then, just because it was there, we went into this place (museum again?!) that had a collection of "automatons" from French store windows of 1900-1960. So, what delighted French children at Christmastime long ago delighted our Canadian girl today. They just don't make 'em like this any more!

Trust me, they're all sorts of moving parts. Automates Avenue, Falaise, France

May 5


"C.H.C. Day = Chartres Huge Cathedral"

Today we went to Chartres. It was long and boring but luckily I took my gravol pill. It was a good, fun whatever drive, though. We stopped for lunch at a gas station for a steak hache and fries for me, Quiche for Mummy and Daddy and cookies and ice cream for dessert. When we got to our Etap near (by 1.8 kilometers) Chartres, we checked out the room and drove to the Cathedral. We parked at the Cathedral parking lot and walked in. Beatiful stained glass! Telling storys of Jesus, Mary or Joseph's lives! Also lots of pretty colurs! I really like the cathedral though it was our 10th or whatever cathedral! We walked around and bought me some stuff and had dinner at a Tex-Mex place. Drove home, G.N.!

May 6


Today we went to Familly. Familly is a town in Normandy by the Chunnel (or English Channel). We had Mc-D for lunch. In Lisieux we ate. When we got to the place near us, Orbec, we diden't know which ay to go so we asked the Office de Tourisime (which translate into Office of Tourism) people for help. We went down the road they told us to and not going far enough to see Familly (which we found later) we turned around, went to a different road, took it and finally, saw a metal sign to Familly. When we got to our place, we found out there were kids so I introduced myself.

Before I knew I was playing games I'd either never heard of or they had a diffrent word for it (the family was English). We also played with two other freinds of Georgia (the girl age 10 and a half) and Oliver (the boy age 6). Now I will tell you the games we played. There's 1) Tag: simple easy tag. 2) Stuck in the mud: our old frezze tag - just the English way :) 3) Dub Dub: hide and seek exept when the person see you they yell dub dub and then you race 4) Snake, Fox and chicken game! Simple the snake chases the fox, the fox chases the chicken and the chicken chases the snake. If you get someone our somebody gets you you bring them to your or his/her prison. So your kept busy with that fame. So I got introduced to the kitten, had dinner, Georgia and I played for a bit, said goodbye, G.N.!

May 7


Today we went to Mont Saint Michel. The drive there was long and Daddy missed the exit so we turned around in big city Caen. For lunch we brought picnic stuff so we ate at one of there picnic (or in French pronounced peque-neque) things on the highway. We had olives, meat, bread, chips and cookies. We had a very yummy lunch before going onto the pedistrian bridge to see the highway! When we got to Mt.St. Michel we got tickets and hurried in. Mt St Michel was very exciting and I especially liked the church! Glad we got out of there before seven thirty. Otherwise our car would of been underwater! We started back, not on the highway, me and the kids played Dub-Dub etc., had dinner, G.N.!

May 9


"Bayeux and Canada Day!"

Today we went to the Bayeux tapestries. I was very lucky because in only English and French you could get a kids audio guide. It was very good and I was suprised how long it [the tapestry] was. I even got a book called play with William the conqueror and the Bayeux tapestry, which has: games, quizzes, dressing up, do-it-yourself, puzzeles, and recipes. We then had a very good lunch and drove to Juno beach. There we had a very fun tour about the Canadian landing etc.etc. before seeing a movie. it was a bit like the terracotta warriors but it dident go all the way around. Then we went through all of the museum (me doing the kids stuff: special information, drawing, etc.) We then drove home, had dinner, played with the kids, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 00:30 Archived in France Comments (4)

Foie Gras for Five

A Family Visit in Sarlat, France

semi-overcast 14 °C

Well, it WAS 14 degrees, on average. The last few days we've been having a heat wave.

David, Heather, Anica, Rob, Jenn at Jardins de Marqueyssac, France

Geese of the Perigord

April 25


We won the race to Sarlat! 550 km from Paris, no wrong turns, until we were just metres from our accommodation. Then we did four laps around the medieval quarter looking for the elusive parking spot closest to the pedestrian-only zone. Ah, well. That hiccup was nothing compared to my parents, whose high-speed train from Paris to Bordeaux was fine, but the second train stopped at Bergerac, not Sarlat. It would go no farther. Strike! We had no idea there was a railroad strike going on. Suddenly my parents were having an "Amazing Race" moment! A group of nine were expecting to go on to Sarlat. They were told that a bus would take them at 7:30 - which was four hours later. Everybody made such a fuss that the train company paid for taxis (over a hundred Euros each) to Sarlat. They got to the train station in Sarlat at 4:30. I was waiting for about half an hour, sort of wondering why no trains were arriving.

Sarlat is very pretty, especially in its medieval core, where only the tiniest cars may pass. We had a typical Dordogne dinner, with foie gras, coq au vin, etc. Our self-catering apartment is in a small hotel/house of about six. Tilting cobblestone streets, wisteria creeping along the walls, it looks like our time together in Sarlat will be a real treat.

Wisteria growing in a Sarlat square

The 12th-century "Lanterne des Morts," Sarlat

April 26


Market day! Overnight, the streets of Sarlat's medieval core were transformed. Up and down all the main streets were stalls and umbrellas for the market dealers. We bought all sorts of food for lunch: foie de gras, bread, pastries, olives, dry sausage, cheeses...But it wasn't just food; it was crafts, clothing, and collectibles of a very high quality.

Selling Foie Gras

Family at the Saturday Sarlat market

We're having summer-like weather, so it was beautiful to wander through the market before going back to the apartment to lay out our feast. By dinner, the market had vanished, and we ate on the patio of a creperie just as the gas streetlamps twinkled to life.

April 27


Cave day! Another theme, I guess. It was also a very scenic drive of about a 100 km in total. We went to Lascaux II, which replicates the most famous prehistoric cave art site. Lascaux itself can no longer be visited by tourists because the paintings were deteriorating to the point of disappearing. The reproduction, though "fake," is a tremendous achievement in itself. They built the caves in the exact shape down to the millimetre and hired a single artist to do the paintings, who took eleven years to do so, using the methods and materials of the prehistoric artists. The tour was great; we really grew to appreciate the life-like elements of the cave art, and how they incorporated the relief of the rock into the line and shape of their subjects.

Then we went to La Roc Christophe, which was, again, unlike any we've seen anywhere in the world. It's a cliff overhang that has been inhabited off and on for about 50, 000 years. The levels of the cliff-dwellings are connected by rough-hewn staircases that remain, and were also once spanned by ropes and ladders. In 1588, a Protestant community was evicted from the cliffs, ending a period of recorded history that dated back to the 10th century. Much of the re-creation has to do with the medieval lifestyle, and Anica acted as tour guide for all of us, reading out a series of explanations. Great view, too, looking out over the swiftly flowing river and green valley.

Le Roc St. Christophe: cliffside living at its finest!

Our final stop was Le Thot, where they have a little museum, some more replicated cave art, and, best of all for Anica, the present-day counterparts of the animals depicted, such as bison, ibex and deer.

April 29


After a rainy, quiet day, we covered the countryside again today. The theme: Chateau Day. The Dordogne region of France is named after the Dordogne River, which winds a serpentine path, often lazily. But now with spring rains, it's overflowing its banks and running swiftly.

We stopped in La Roque-Gagneac, a town with one street, running parallel to the river. We stopped at a scenic viewpoint to look out over the castle of Montfort and the "black Perigord" countryside ("black" because the oaks don't shed their leaves). Another photo-op was the little church in the field, with its adjacent cemetery. The custom around here is to have miniature greenhouses over the grave plots. They're very well-tended, but it certainly gives a different look to a graveyard.

Part of the imaginative gardens at Marqueyssac

Then we visited a gardens, called Marqueyssac, although it was on the land of a Chateau, so that fit the theme. My Dad was so enthused: "look at this place! Heather! Look at this waterfall! You should paint this, Heather! This is fantastic! Rob, I'm telling you...This is phenomenal!" It's great to be with my parents, because they really appreciate what they're seeing. My Dad captures sights visually in his memory, and is able to recall them later with near-hypnotic clarity. Marqueyssac also started the day's trend of being able to see the rest of the day's sites from across the valley: we could see both Castelnaud and Beynac from the garden's "Belvedere."

Approaching Castelnaud

The siege machines have returned to Castelnaud

Castelnaud was English in the Hundred Years War, then Protestant in the Wars of Religion. Despite backing these wrong horses, the family never lost their chateau. They eventually just gave it up because it was too uncomfortable. Today it has really good replicas of medieval siege machines, and a great collection of weapons.

Beynac, the quintessential medieval castle

Beynac, the rival chateau across the river, was even more atmospheric. If someone wanted to know what a medieval "castle" looked like, I'd show them a picture of this. Richard the Lionheart won this castle for himself, and held it for ten years. The movie "The Messenger" about Joan of Arc was partially filmed here. Inside, some of the passages were only lit by oil-lamp torches. The views down to the river were spectacular: the walls are high, but also set on a cliff-top, so it's about 450 feet to the valley floor.

High above the Dordogne on the Beynac keep

We did all these things and were never more than 15 kilometres from Sarlat. What an area this is! Hey, I'm pretty enthused too!

At dinner, Jenn and I went out alone (!) while Anica went out (somewhere else!) with my parents. We had a great dinner, kind of Swiss food, called "Chez Le Gaulois," platters of sliced ham, fondues, potatoes and salad. Anica and Mum and Dad went to an Italian restaurant. It was weird, since Anica's barely been out of the sight (of at least one of us) for the last nine months. But it was also nice to have a romantic French dinner in the heart of France. One of many reasons we have to thank my parents.

April 30


Theme of the day? Driving through the Eastern Dordogne. The other theme was the weather: rain, sun, rain, sun, etc. Anyway, sporadically following the Dordogne River, we came to Martel. It's a smaller town than Sarlat, and different because of its white stone buildings. Sarlat's is a golden ("lemony" they call it) limestone. We had a whistlestop tour of Martel, with its medieval center. Dad felt "really back in time" in Martel, as he did too with the second of the chateaux we visited yesterday. Then the rain came and we just saw Carennac through the windshield wipers. It had cleared again by the time we got to Rocamadour. This is a spectacular town. You view it from across a deep, rocky valley. It looks fastened to the cliffside. From afar, it looks like a carving, a miniature village that you'd expect to see in a snow globe. Most of its buildings have the rock as their back wall. We drove through it, then saw it from below, before moving beyond it on the road back to Sarlat. Lush green forests and grasslands, and a still-raging Dordogne River. So, a classic family road trip!

Rocamadour, from across the valley

A piece of the "Roc"

May 1


It's May! And it's May Day. A holiday here in Sarlat. Since schools are closed Wednesdays, offices are closed Saturdays and Sundays, and stores are closed Mondays, we sure were surprised to see everything shut again on a Thursday. We don't have this holiday in Canada. Of course, the restaurants were open, and there was a festive market in the streets of Sarlat.

Sarlat balcony

We were out to the Jardins d'Eyrignac today, a "manoir" gardens, done in Italian, French and English formal garden styles. Picture sculpted hedges and trees, and near maze-like corridors. Anica liked running around the areas that didn't say keep off the grass. We all enjoyed not just the gardens, but the drive there. Fifteen kilometres from Sarlat, and once we got out of the town, there was never a car behind us. We drove the twisty road at about 30 km/h, to better take in the countryside and the picturesque farmhouses and bories.

Gardens and chateau of Eyrignac

Our final dinner together was at a restaurant called "Lou Cocolou." Very nice for the occasion, with a table on an indoor/outdoor courtyard. We've had a great time together; since my parents live fairly close to us in Ontario, Anica has never had an extended visit like this with her grandparents. It will be sad to take them to their train tomorrow and say goodbye. It's safe to say that without my parents' support, in every sense of the word, our "big world trip" would not have been possible. For them to be an active part of the experience is very special. Although my parents travel each year to Europe, my Dad's health issue means that they never take continued travel for granted. Now they're off to enjoy a tour of France that includes more time in Paris, the Loire Valley and Normandy. Bon voyage, Mom and Dad!

May 2


Yes, my parents were seated comfortably on their train this morning, which we presume means there's no repeat of the wildcat train strike incident. The three of us took turns today in expecting to see my parents in the next room or beside us on the sidewalk.

Due to the raging Dordogne river conditions, we had to abandon the idea of a canoe trip. Anica got to choose what else to do, and she picked an attraction called "Le Bournat," a "1900" village. Although this wasn't nearly as good as a couple of the "pioneer villages" in Ontario, Anica seemed to enjoy it, especially because they anachronistically added children's playground equipment and midway rides.

We enrolled Anica in a local school, but she complained the other kids were dummies.

Today was perhaps the warmest day we've had in Europe so far: 26 degrees and nothing but sunshine. We had a picnic by the little river at the 1900 village, surrounded by mannequins and (real) ducks. It's too bad my parents didn't get one more day like this in the Dordogne.

We went back to "Chez Le Gaulois" for dinner. Anica liked it as much as we did. One of our favourite restaurants of the whole trip!

May 3


The Saturday market in Sarlat was much busier than last week. Apparently, May is the start of the real tourist season. We bought out lunch stuff there, and after eating in our flat, drove the town of Domme. It's one of the "bastide" towns (pardon my French), meaning planned, fortified towns built in the 13th century. It's also way up on a hill, with an unbeatable view of the Dordogne valley. What's the English word for "belevedere?" Oh, apparently it's "belevedere." Anyway, it was a great view. Soon, though, we'll be moving on from the Dordogne, to another region of France.

"Right now I'll just sit here so contentedly, and watch the river flow."

April 25


"Sarlat is a Lovely Town"

Today we went to Sarlat. On the way we stopped for lunch at a gas statin that had a choice (of washroom) sqaut or sit. We chose sit. :) For lunch we had sandwhiches, chips and pops. Then we met Nana and Grandpa who told us they had a train strike. We had a lovely dinner at a lovely, pretty, nice, etc, etc, place were I had raw veggies, ham, fries, and ice cream. Went home, G.N.!

April 26


Today we went to the Sarlat market. It was a very interesting market. We bought olives, meats, cheeses, veggies, and lots more from the market! And it wasn't just food! Clothes! Acseories! Toys! Just about everything! For lunch we had all the stuff we bought at the maraket plus tarts from a tart shop. We played, did my school work, wrote my diary, watched TV, played Harry Potter before going outside on a walk. It was a fun walk and for dinner we had crepes. I got plain and a choco one for dessert. Had that lovely dinner at a Creperie, walked around some more, went home, G.N.

April 27


Today we went to Montiganac which is a pretty little town near Sarlat. about 25 km. In the tourist information center we got tickets to Lasqaux (a cave) and Le Thot (a caveish, museumish and biggish animal park). First we went to Lascaux. We had to go on a (luckily) English tour (no choice to go on your on). His English was o.k. but his accent! He's like "and now his dog Robot (but it was Robot, not Robert). blah blah blah..."

But the cave paintings were so cool! Paintings of deer, bulls, and much more! After we went to Rouqe Saint Cristophe where we first had lunch then went to the sight. They had slaughter houses, stables, pretty views, etc.

Plus it was just really, really neat! So cool! It was my favrite sight that day! Then we went to Le Thot where we saw animals (real), more cave paintings and a pretty good museum. Then went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 29


Today we drove out of Sarlat. We first followed the signs for Cahors, but instead we went to Eglise de Carsac. That translate into Church of Carsac. Then we saw Montrfort Chateau (pronounced: sha-toe) which acorrding to Rick Steves is not worth a stop. After we went to Le Roque Gegeac where we walked and stared. We walked along the river and stared at the river as it went (maybe) 200 kph. Then we went to a great garden area where we saw: mazes, playgrounds, huts, treehouses, viewpoints, bushes, etc, etc....Then we went to Castelnaud which is in ruins but with more fun stuff to do. Beynac had a castle not in ruins but with less stuff to do. Went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 30


Today we went on a drive. We went to Martel first. I had a soft decorated waffle. We walked around a ot and I took a video of us and Mummy went "blah!" which made me go wroof wroof wroof and run away. But the rest of the video was good. It was 1 minute 59 seconds. Then we drove a lot before having lunch at Rocamadour where we ate sandwhices and steaks! Yum! Then we drove around Rocamadour and viewed the town from a montin view. Then me, Mom, Dad, Nana and Grandpa went back, rested, had dinner, played Scrabble, G.N.!

May 1


Today we went to the Manoir de Eyrigac gardens. They were one of my favorite gardens. We viseted a Chinese pagoda and lots more! The terrace/white gardens where very pretty and looked very Chinese style! they had a fontin where the water came out of really stoney and wet and fake frogs! I wrote a comment in there comment book.

Frog fountain at Eyrignac

We had lunch of 3 Croque Monsuiers for Mummy, Nana and Grandpa, 1 tuna pizza for Daddy, and one yummy cheese panini (baked, grilled sandwhich) for (of course) me! We then went on a very fun Rick Steves tour! We went to a playground with slides and swings! I could make the swings go very high! It was lots of fun! For dinner we had: pate and soup for the adults (starter), plus main meal and dessert. I had the kids menu steak with fries and ice cream for dessart. Went home, G.N.!

May 2


"A 1900 Village!"

Today we went to a pioneer sort of village. It was called La Bournat. It's in La Booge (a town). When we first got there we found a bench and started to eat: olives, bread, meat, chips, juices and cookies. Ymmmmm! We then went over to the weirdly-not-1900-style playground. Because: airplane rides, electric rides, etc. We then went into the school where we saw a boy wearing a dunce hat shaped like a bunny. After seeing bolungires, toys, etc. (plus lots to wasps because it was over 21 degrees), we saw the windmill. The windmillers house is so tiny! We saw a reguler house, then left. I did my schoolwork, played Harry Potter and for dinner had some of the best meat and chesse ever! Had dinner, went home, G.N.!

May 3


Today, in the morning we went to the Sarlat market. For lunch we got strawberries, bread, olives, and yummy praline flavoured nuts. We also got some more stuff like sasuges and pate but we planned to hae those tomorrow. Had our yummy lunch, played Harry Potter then went to Domme. In 28 degrees! We walked around the pretty fortified town for at least one hour before I got tirerd and hot. We sat in a cool church for a couple minites before getting gelato and leaving. Sarlat was 25 (aproxximitly) km and seemed quick. When we got back we went to Pizzeria Romane, where Mommy and Daddy got pizza and I got menu bambino of steak hache, fries and rasberry and choco gelato with whipped cream (chantilly). Mummy also had a yummy choco mousse with sprinkles on top. We then went home, and then....G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 08:14 Archived in France Comments (2)

"April in Paris"

And a "warm embrace" from Anica's grandparents!

sunny 14 °C

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace
'Till April in Paris, chesnuts in blossom
Holiday tables, under the trees
April in Paris.."

A family "triomphe." Out with Anica's grandparents in Paris, April 24

There it is!

April 18


But first, Vimy Ridge: the battleground where Canada came of age. Today we visited this place on our way to Paris. It turned out to be even more impressive and interesting than I imagined. At first, the cold wind was such that Anica barely wanted to walk from the parking lot to the monument. But it died down somewhat, thankfully, and we began to enjoy ourselves.

It was weird being on "Canadian soil," with the Canadian flag flying, and the familiar Government of Canada logos on signs. Quite an introduction to France! It was more poignant than usual because we've been out of our mother country for over eight months now.

Not constantly poignant, though. We had comic relief from an English school-tour group. They were answering worksheets. We overheard: "That's because this is Canadian soil, you #*&!@^%." And, our favourite exchange: "Look at that statue of the assassin." "That's not a bleeding assassin, it's the Virgin Mary, you wanker!" Ah, the learning moment. How beautiful.

Detail from the Vimy Ridge monument (note: she's not an "assassin")

In World War I, 91 years ago this month, Canada's four divisions fought together, under Canadian command, for the first time. They took the Vimy Ridge, something the French and English hadn't been able to do in two years. Although it was a futile few kilometers of gained ground, the world took notice. Although we won the battle, we paid the price of close to 3,000 lives. The striking, clefted, white-stone monument was designed in the 1920s and has just been restored. It is an awesome sight.

What surprised us is the visitor's centre, which is also expanded, and staffed with Canadian university students. Outside it are a series of reconstructed trenches, and hundreds of mounds and bomb craters. Electric fences still carry a warning of undetonated charges - almost a century later!

We got a special treat, just because we asked. For five of us, they opened up the "subway" and gave a tour. There are many miles of underground tunnels - much safer and more secretive than the equally extensive trenches, and a huge section has been made safe for visiting. We couldn't help compare to the Cu Chi Tunnels we crawled through in Vietnam. These are much bigger, and better made. Even in 1917 there was electricity in most of them. There was a (literal) underground railroad. More money and resources still meant building tunnels and waging war...just better tunnels.

Part of the underground war at Vimy Ridge

Seeing Vimy Ridge and Tyne Cot brought the history of the Great War alive to me more than I've ever done for my students. I hope I can take back to my classroom a fraction of the spine-tingling respect and sorrow I've felt these past few days.

Later in the afternoon we arrived at Croissy-Sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, where we'll be staying for a week. The apartment is kind of "seventies," but the town's nice. And it's close to Paris. And it's Spring!

April 19


Paris! What a city. And what a first day we had in it. We exhausted ourselves, especially Anica. We've written on the blog about her legendary stamina, but today it reached its limit and she was just looking for the next place to sit down by the afternoon. Still, very little whining though, and no tantrum of any sort.

Anyway, it was the fault of the Museum Pass and our enthusiasm. The Museum Pass is something I'd strongly recommend if you're going to Paris. We got the 2-day one (it also comes in 4 and 6). It's 30 Euros each, and then all sorts of places are free after that. And the best part is you go straight in; no waiting in line. That really helped us today.

We bought our passes at the Arc D'Triomphe. We'd successfully found our way into the centre of Paris by RER and Metro. When we came up the stairs, the Arc appeared - the very first thing we'd laid eyes on in Paris. It is the most massive example of this kind of arch or gateway - bigger than Berlin or Rome, for instance. Twelve streets radiate out from it. The original "unknown soldier" with eternal flame is there. La Defense is visible down one of them. The Eiffel Tower is partially visible. I'll never forget Anica's exclamation: "Is that Eiffel Tower? It is!" She sounded so excited!

With our pass, we were able to climb to the top (here the exhaustion factor begins). Then we walked down the Champs D'Elysee. Exhilarating, but exhausting, of course. We window-shopped luxury items, and shopped for more realistically-priced goods. A CD at Virgin Megastore, and at the Peugeot store, a miniature version of our own silver Peugeot 207. Can't take the real one home! We had lunch at Place de Concorde, lunch being "hot dog fromage," yummy and (relatively) cheap. We just ate sitting out on the square.

Then we crossed the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay, the art gallery best known for its Impressionist collection. The Museum Pass worked its magic and we waltzed in past a huge line. So many of the paintings in the Orsay I use in my European history course, either to make a point, or just to teach the art history itself. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin - they're all here. They also have "Whistler's Mother," which we know is a copy because Mr. Bean ruined the original (she's a "mad old cow"). Anica liked the Degas sculpture of the little ballerina girl. And the Van Gogh work still is mesmerizing. The Renoirs really shine: "Country Dance," and "Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette"

A Renoir we all loved - the original shimmers with light

Anica was able to appreciate the difference of the Impressionist art, because we've seen so much Classical and Renaissance art. On the ground floor, I was really glad to see the everyday life scene of Millet's "Angelus," and Daumier's "The Laundress," among others.

That was the big stop for today, but, since they were so nearby...we also went to the Rodin Museum and Napoleon's Tomb. We only did the outdoor garden part of the Rodin, and the sun had come out. The draw there is "The Thinker."

Anica says he's thinking: "where are my clothes?"

Then Napoleon's Tomb - he himself would love it. His coffin is the largest I've ever seen and is visible from above the crypt as you stand under the huge "Hotel de Invalides" dome that shines in gold leaf outside. After seeing that, we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe Paris (partly to reward Anica for her patience) and took the trains back "home."

Napoleon compensates for his size even in death!

April 20


The Louvre was our day today. No lining up; thank-you Museum Pass. We got Anica this book called "Discover The Louvre - Together" where there's picture cards for her as an "Adventurer," added info for the parent to read/share, and then an activity section for Anica afterward. It was a big hit, and got us to the far reaches of the Louvre. We saw the archaeological foundations of the old medieval castle in the basement (these were just excavated in 1984), Assyrian and Egyptian galleries, the Mona Lisa, and more. We spent some extra time with the paintings, particularly the big French masterpieces ("The Raft of the Medusa" by Gericault, "Liberty Leading the People" by Delacroix, etc.).

Anica begins her Louvre "adventurer" quest

And of course the Mona Lisa. It was like being in a mosh pit, really. And everyone was taking pictures, many with flashes, despite the warnings. Anica got a closer look than anyone else, because we knew to request the children's spot, but she was too self-conscious to stare at it for long because about 200 people were standing behind her at the railing. On the positive side, Jenn said be sure and tell people that it's not that small a painting; that it was actually larger than she thought from all she's heard. As for me, I thought the colours were stronger and the background landscape more distinct than I'd seen in any reproduction.

Mosh Pit de Mona Lisa

The Louvre has 30,000 objects on display, so, while we did see the "Venus de Milo" and Michaelangelo's "Dying Slave," there were many other things we didn't see. Even I ran out of energy and enthusiasm eventually. You can't even see all the paintings in one day, let alone every gallery. When we went outside, the sun had come out and the temperature around 20 degrees (about the same as Toronto, we hear!) and we enjoyed seeing the Pei Pyramid, fountains and the Caroussel arch.

Pei and the sky

April 22


We've developed a saying on this trip, almost a family motto (our previous one was: I love you anyway...): "You can't think all the time." (apologies to Descartes). Today, we must have taken the whole day off from thinking. No great consequence, just much inconvenience. Today we went to Versailles. We didn't get full directions (so a 10 km drive became 30 on the way home), we didn't get advance tickets (so instead of waltzing in, we waited in line for 90 minutes), we didn't check out the parking options (so instead of an expected 5 Euros, it was 11). Versailles will be remembered in our family for waiting in line and walking great distances.

It's hard to say, then, if our consensus that Vienna's Schonbrunn was better is all that objective. What I liked best about Versailles was that we had great weather, and the time we spent in Marie Antoniette's "domain" really helped us understand her escapist fantasies. They've preserved her play village perfectly, and Anica thought it was hilarious that she played at being a milkmaid there. It's pretty, quaint, and so obviously "fake" that it has a unique look.

The first view of the gardens and Grand Canal is overwhelming. Some things are even bigger than you imagine. It's actually 3.5 km to the back of the canal. We walked all the way to Marie Antoniette's domain and back, so that's several kilometres.

Looking from the gardens down the Grand Canal

The Palace itself, though impressive, was quite crowded and not served well by the uninspired audio guide. The Hall of Mirrors, for example - perhaps they should have mentioned the Treaty of Versailles, 1919? The audio guide even ended before the mammoth Napoleon coronation painting, so we learned nothing new about it.

We're exploring our own town, Croissy-sur-Seine, as well. It's where the Impressionist painters did a lot of there, and is not far from Giverny, Monet's favoured spot. Along the Seine, across the street from us, is a long pathway. There are display boards of impressionist work (i.e. here's where Renoir painted the...). There's a church that dates to the 12th century. Anica was amazed that it's as old as Angkor Wat, and has not been ruined nor abandoned through all these centuries. Cherry blossoms are everywhere in the grounds of our building. There's a "biblioteque" next door, which we peeked in just before closing today (hey, we never pass up a library or bookstore, do we?). We're very happy with the location, and although the apartment wasn't clean when we arrived, the owners have since made up for it. They apologized, and will fire their cleaners (we were horrified at that, but apparently it wasn't the first complaint), and even brought us flowers.

Front lawn of our apartment building in Croissy-sur-Seine

April 23


Somewhere in Paris...are my parents. We won't see them until tomorrow, though, as they need a day to recuperate from overnight flight jet lag. It's weird to think we could have run into them today!

We'll think of this as our Eiffel Tower day. It is one of those experiences that lives up to the hype. There's a line-up to buy tickets, a line-up for the first elevator (like a funicular, really), and a line-up for the second elevator. But as soon as I got on that second elevator, all the touristy hassles were forgotten. Looking out the window of that elevator, it's like you're outside - there's no building - just a few steel beams. Over a hundred years after it was built, it's still a unique experience.

The views were great, 1000 feet up on the third level, and on the inside deck Anica enjoyed the signs pointing to different places on the globe, as in Singapore this way, 10 405 km, etc. So many places we've been to this year!

Jenn and I both thought: it's brown. The Eiffel Tower is brown, not black. Why does it always look black? It's not even a particularly dark brown.

Looking up Eiffel

We walked down from the second level to the ground, 400 feet. Standing under the legs helps you realize how huge it is. Then we crossed the Seine and looked at the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero park.

Earlier in the day, we'd toured Notre Dame Cathedral, the Ile de Saint Louis, along the Seine and through the Latin Quarter. We loved Shakespeare and Co. Books, the most eccentric bookstore we've ever seen (and English-language too).

April 24


Almost nine months since we left home, we rendez-voused (that's French) with my parents today in Paris. We were glad they made it, and glad for that matter we made it, too. We met them at their hotel, near Pont Neuf. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had a lot of catching up to do, so naturally we headed for the Catabombs?!? Actually, it was our idea; something none of had seen. It sure was creepy - hundreds of thousands of bones and skulls. It's a huge walk under the streets of Paris. When we emerged, we were nowhere near the Metro station we'd started at. The rest of the day was spent in restaurants and walking the streets - Champs d'Elysees again, the other side, this time.

A few of the bones in the Catacombs

What I missed most from home was seeing my parents, and it was so exciting to be able to share our experiences on this trip in person. And to create new ones! All of us were energized by meeting up with them. Next we drive and they take the train to the Dordogne region where we'll spend a week together.

April 18


Today we went to Paris. On the way we stopped at Vimmy Ridge. We saw the Canadian War Memorial which is a huge sturctchere with a lot of barenaked peple and two sides: one represinting France the other: Canada. I coulden't believe that we were on Canadian owned ground! It just seems so cool! Then we went to the trenches and tunnels. But before that we went to the visitors informatin center where after watching a movie and looking at the informatin about: the trenches, the tunnels and the monument, the lady at the desk gave me a bag with two newspapers, two pins, a flag, a boo mark and two pamphlet guides. We went on the tour after we saw the huge trenches and the bomb craters. This tour apart from the more-than-one-day ones, was my favrite one on the trip. Our guide was great, the underground was amazing and the whole thing amazing! We had lunch at a petrol statin, arrived, got grocieries, went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 19


Today we went to Paris. We went by train from our station Chateu-Croissy to Charles De Gule. Half of the stops were outside, half like a metro. When we got to Charles de Gule we went to the arc de triomphe which translates into: Arch of triumph. It is so big! Plus where we are standing at the side of the arch I suddenly go: oh-my-gosh is that the Eifell Tower! Yes! It is so big! We got museum cards and went to the top of the arch where we had even better views of the tower! We then walked down the Champs Elysay where I bought a miniature Pegout 207 and a Pink (rock band) CD. We saw the Tuleries (just by going right in front of the gate not even going in) before having a lunch of fromage hot dogs! Went to the Musee D'Orsay where my favrite paintings were: hmmm I'm thinking I don't really have one. I diden't like the Musee D'Orsay that much! One I might have liked was a not-Egyptian Isis pouring fire from her brests. Hmmm. Godess of Beauty or Godess of fire dropping from your breast? Went to the statue garden at the Rodin, saw Napoleon the first's tomb, had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe Paris, went home, G.N.!

April 20


"The Louvre...and the (not) postage stamp sized Mona Lisa"

Today we went to the Louvre. It was not that busy, though! It might of been because we had museum passes. Or just luck, But, boy, it was still busy! First we saw a area called Khorsabad Court which had these weird god like animal/human things called Lamasuu. And King Sargon was the one they were protecting. And the king's so strong he can strangle a lion! We saw a statue of Charlemagne on his horse. We also saw: his crown, sword, spurs and sceptor. After that, we saw Napoleon the 3rd's apartments. It was very interesting and looked very royal. After the dining room we then saw "victory of Samothrae" which was a o-my-gosh-she-is-not-barenaked statue. Then we saw the gallery of Apollo which translates into Greek God of sun or Louis XIV gallery. In the middle there's a picture of Apollo killing the snake Python. Then we saw the world famus Mona Lisa! I was so lucky for children (the adults were roped off) could go in front but 300 flashed behind me. I got out! Did you know someone stole the Mona Lisa? On August 22, 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen by three Italians disgused as maintenance men. The public flocked to see the empty spot and they even left flowers. The Mona Lisa could not be found for two years! The thief Vincenzo Perugia had kept the painting in his tiny room near the Louvre. When he took the painting to Italy to try and sell it, he was captured in Florence. Wow! Had lunch, and saw lots more stuff, went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 21


Today we went to Versailles. When we got there we had to stand in a lineup to buy tickets. Then we went on a walk to Marie-Antoinette's estate. On the way we had a lunch of sausage and fries and sandwiches. The gardens go forever! It took us 50 minutes to an hour including lunch to get to the Marie-Antoinette's estate. There we saw: the Petit Trianon, the temple of love (which turned out to be temple of hunting, war, death - the point is: anything exept love...) and lots more! We also saw Canadian looking geese, ducks and 100 or less/more fish! Walked back to the palace got two free I included audio guides and I gave up mine because it was so more boring than the Schonbrun! People are big meanies! A woman boofed (pushed) me with her big, fat purse, a woman pushes in front of everyone, people take flashes when no flash signs, men stop me from getting to Mom and Dad, etc etc...too busy! We went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 23


Today we went to Paris. We first went to Notre Dame. What a big church! I really liked the stained glass! Big red windows! And everybody kept on taking pictures with flas when huge tapestry sizd posters say no flash! Then we went to a playground behind Notre Dame. It had a big circle thing, a swing, that's it. I really liked the big circle thing which you spin around. You get to the top and start going really fast! Only kids 7 and up could go on it so (luckily) I
was 8!

A spinning Anica

After we found out we could not go to one of the memorials to the Jews, so we looked for lunch. I ended up having a ham omelette while they ate crepes. Then we went to the Eiffel Tower! Big! We took the elevator/funicular up and viewed Paris! Toronto was six thousand kilometres away! Went up to the outside part and saw very far away! Then we went down to the second floor and walked down (very fun), went back, had dinner, G.N.!

April 24


"Nana! Grandpa!"

Today we met Nana and Grandpa! We met them at there hotel. Then after we met them we went to the Catacombs which went on forever, before we saw a big fancy tomb and went into another tunnel which beside you were skulls and bones of over 8 million people! It was a bit too long! Then we went to lunch. For lunch we had two croque monsieurs, two croque madames, and one contry ham sandwhich. Yum! Yum! and Yum! Then we went to the Champs Elysayss and had hiagon-das. Then we walked through the Tulreis garden, went pee in the Louvre. We had dinner, went home, G.N.! P.S. in the Tulires garden I played in the children's park

Posted by jennrob 13:00 Archived in France Comments (4)

Chocolate, Beer and War

Four Nights in Bruges, Belgium

sunny 10 °C

Classic view of Bruges canals and belfry

April 15


Add a new nominee to our "Favourite Small City in Europe:" Bruges. Actually, go ahead and give Bruges the award. This is such a picturesque city that it even tops Rothenberg. It's like travelling back in time, except there's no garbage, smell, or plague! The quantity and quality of jaw-dropping medieval/early-modern buildings ("look! there's a house from 1662," etc.) can be explained by Bruges' decline after their golden era (no new building) combined with being miraculously spared in both World Wars (no destroyed buildings), and then being discovered by tourists (upkeep of buildings). This last factor is probably the only downside to Bruges. The city is on every tour group's itinerary. I imagine in the summer it would be worse. The best time is around 5 PM, when the stores are still open, and the tour buses are gone. Then, it's mostly the local population out shopping, bicycling and walking home, and showing the rest of us the real character of their city.

Anica and Rob cross a quaint Bruges bridge

Of course, being Belgium, this is a great place for chocolate, with over 40 chocolate stores. And it's equally known for beer. Something for everyone! Jenn liked sampling the 40 or more chocolate shops. Anica did too, and supplemented that by visiting a couple of candy stores. She even had a ride on the "May Fun Fair" that's set up in a couple of the town squares. It looks funny to see the modern midway rides with their flashing neon signs ringed by sedate old storefronts. As for the beer, I got to sample a couple of the 250 beers (and they're all Belgian) in one of the pubs. The "menu" several pages long.

On our self-guided walking tour today, we passed through a 13th century "Beguinage," where widowed and unmarried women could safely live in centuries past. Just as old was a (shockingly beautiful) alms-house complex, that still provides low-income housing.

Anica amid the medieval alms-houses

We walked over quaint, low bridges (Bruges is also known as the "Venice of the North"), past locks and sluice-houses, into the grand "Markt" square, with its belfry.

"Markt" this spot!

We went into one museum: "Choco Story". Newly-opened, it tells the history of how chocolate became associated with Belgium, with the requisite demonstrations and free samples. We were guided by Anica, reading aloud from the brochure (often at the top of her lungs), which was called "Bruges - Children Allowed." Nice translation of "Kinderen Toegalten!" I guess it's better than "Bruges - Children tolerated, if you insist."

Bruges might not seem welcoming to a vegetarian either. Fortunately, we're meat-eaters. Last night we had spare ribs at a restaurant called "Die Hobbit." It was somewhat themed after Tolkien, but actually is a cozy, busy place with great food and a great sense of humour. Their menu took magazine ads from the 1920s and inserted the word "hobbit" into them. My brother-in-law, a big Tolkien reader, would get a real kick out of this place!

Today's dinner ranks with our "world's bests." Nothing fancy, just delicious chicken. For you Canadians, it's like Swiss Chalet got to open a franchise in Heaven, but only because they promised to raise their standards to heavenly levels. The restaurant was actually called "The Chicken-In." Perhaps I have a simple palate, but all three of us were saying the same thing: this is one of the best meals we've had anywhere on this trip.

April 15


"Children Allowed instead of Children Welcome!"

...and the almost losing of my purse. First, today we walked to the informatin and concert hall. we got our number and sat down till it came. Finally 35 came. We asked for a children's walk around Brugge. We saw a lot of stuff on the children's walk including fountins, catedrals and lots more. Plus we gotme two candys! a litle gummy minni cake and a huge candy stick which was sort of multiflavered. And we saw a statue with (of course) a barenaked lady on a horse with a Brugge horse driver! After having Belgian waffles (not as good as Daddy's Belgian waffles) and sandwiches with chips for lunch, I diden't know I left my purse! Luckily the guys were nice and handed it back when I came in again. After the walk we went to the Chocostory, a mueseum where we tried chocolates, saw a demenstratin and I got a game where you have to put the right stickers on the correct number to win a prize. I chose the pencil instead of a praline (or whatever), lollipop or key chain. For dinner we had a 100% good, 100 stars chicken with fries and stewed apples at a freindly, yummy, nice restaurant. Chicken-in. G.N!

April 16


My students and colleagues were with me today, in my heart and mind, as we went on the best Canadian History "field trip" ever. To Flanders Fields. To Ypres. Passchendaele. The very names ring out to anyone who's studied World War I. But to today's students, it seems so distant. It's practically vanished from living memory. Here, though, it's everywhere. It's like the Great War just happened. In Ypres, we saw the Menin Gate, where every night (every single night!) they stop the traffic and play "The Last Post." What struck Jenn and I were the entire walls at the Menin Gate filled with the names of the Canadian dead.

Menin Gate, Ypres, just as a Canadian army jeep passes by

Ypres rebuilt itself after World War I, in the same medieval style. Their famous "Cloth Hall," a beautiful Gothic building, stands again. Housed in it is the "In Flanders Fields" museum, named for a poem by, yes, yet another Canadian. They do a good job explaining how futile the "Ypres salient" was. The gimmick of the museum is an identity ticket, that you put into a computer slot as certain points. It tells the real-life story of someone affected by the war. Anica had a nurse, who survived and adopted an orphan, Jenn had a nurse who was killed by a munitions explosion, and I had a British soldier who made it to 1917 before being killed.

The rebuilt Cloth Hall in Ypres

Near Ypres (Ieper in Flemish), after driving through Passchendaele, we went to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. It's the largest Commonwealth War Grave. 12, 000 British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Newfoundland graves. Many are unknown soldiers. About 900 are marked with a maple leaf as Canadian. I took pictures of representative tombstones: different ages, different epitaphs. There is also a huge, curving wall called the "Memorial to the Missing." 35, 000 names are there. What's really sobering is that there are 75 Commonwealth War cemeteries in the area around Ypres. Half a million lives were given up here in order to trade eight kilometres of soil back and forth. Much of rebuilt Ypres bears dates from the 1920s and 1930s on its facades. What must they have thought when the Second World War began, not even a generation after "the war to end all wars?"

Just one section of Tyne Cot Cemetery, a Commonwealth War Grave

One of the many unknown soldier graves at Tyne Cot

Just up the road from The Tyne Cot Cemetery is the "Canadian Memorial" for that area. It's the "St. Julian" statue of a "brooding soldier," very impressive, to mark the 3,000 casualties near there in one of the gas-warfare battles.

Our final stop was to a section of the "Yorkshire Trench" that they have excavated and re-created. It's sandwiched between huge, modern factories. The trench is not big, but it's completely open and free (in fact we were the only ones there), and we did get to climb down into the trenches, swat flies and see the naturally-putrid water that's risen again at the entrance and exit to where the "Deep Dugout" was. The trench is from 1917. Planks, at the same site, mark the land in 1915 where a first set of trenches were dug. There's only a few feet between them.

April 16



Today we went to Ieper. When we first arivved we did a war museum. I diden't like it that much because every half hour in one room theres all-of-a-sudden bomb nosises. But the rest was o.k. Things I never knew: the Christmas Truce - what a funny thing to do :) And lots more! They gave you these cards with different peoples names where you get to find out about there life. My girl died at 60, Mums 20 something, Dads 30. Mine died of illneis, Mums shell bomb, Dads, I can't remember! Had lunch and went to my favrite site that day! The Tyne Cot Cemetary. It had war soldiers buried from Britain, Canada New Zealand, Newfoundland, and so on. Half are unindentified! Went to the trenches, went home, had dinner, G.N.!

April 17


Another self-guided walking tour of Bruges today. Cold, but sunny. Through a lesser-known, but almost as picturesque area. The oldest inn/pub is from 1515. Another building from 1493. Former trading houses of merchants from Lucca, Spain, even the Orient. In keeping with the international theme, we had lunch at an Egyptian restaurant. Anica likes middle eastern food, and said today that Egypt may have been her favourite country to visit. We shopped, including getting stuff for dinner, back at the Bonobo Hotel, where we have the one-bedroom self-catering unit. Our windows look out on a cobblestone alley and a church's belltower.

One of two original wooden facades from 16th century Bruges

Posted by jennrob 10:28 Archived in Belgium Comments (6)

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