Wednesday, 13 August 2014


Beautiful Barcelona
Recently we took a long weekend to visit the beautiful city of Barcelona. After an easy flight, we easily found our apartment after shopping for some staples: cava, cheese, chorizo.

Our apartment was very close to the Ramblas, a wide tree lined pedestrian avenue.   On the weekend the Ramblas was as busy at 4am as the middle of the day which made sleeping difficultWho needs sleep anyway? 

Dinner at El Quatre Gats (the 4 catswas somewhat of a disappointment. It has a charming, warm atmosphere but the service and food was dismal. Picasso regularly came here to meet up with the other artist to drink and discuss the pressing issues of the day. While the menu hasn't changed the chef surely has. 

Below is a graffiti copy of a poster created by the original owner of El Quatre Gats. The original is the National Art Museum. 

Day 2 W
e took a walking tour with Discover Tours, specifically focusing on the Gaudi buildings. Our local guide was Marcelle who was excellent, fun and informative. He gave a a brief history of Barcelona which was a great way to start the trip. Gaudi pretty much defines the city, his work is everywhere, even the pavement we walked on was designed by him.

Some Gaudi properties:

Marcelle left us at the monstrosity that is the Sagrada Famillia, the Holy Family Cathedral.  It is still under construction with a completion date of 2020. The cathedral will have three facades, all themed on a part of the Bible, the Nativity, the Passion and the final still under construction, the Gloria.  It will be awe inspiring when completed. 

We go inside later in the weekend. 

At a street market near the Sagrada Familia, we bought some apricots and macaroon, back on the subway to the Barcelona Cathedral and walked down to the port for lunch on the water.

Mosaics are all over the town decorating  building facades, fountains and pavements. 

We walked back up the Ramblas stopping along the way at the Placa Rein Boquaria, and our first Gaudi building, Casa Guéll. This is the first building Gaudi designed and built. It was commisioned by the Guell family as a family home.

At the Plaça Rein boquaria.... 

There are many creative buskers out trying to earn a living by entertaining tourist.

Tapas at the apartment then a concert at the Palau de Musica. The Spanish guitar concert was held in an amazing music hall with ornate mosaics and luminous stained glass. The musicians were fantastic. 

Day 3
Tram to funicular to Parc Montjuic to the Fundicion Miro and the National Art Museum. 

We celebrated our anniversary with a delicious lunch at the Oleum Restaurant overlooking Barcelona. The rooftop terrace at the museum was amazing. 

Walked through the Parc Jardin and took the cable car to the Castelle, or castle. A 1640 fortress overlooking the Harbor. Most recently it was a prison for Catalan Nationalist.
Back down into town for mass at the Barcelona cathedral. After dark very evening is a water and light show at Font Magic at the base of Montjuic. 

Day 4
Warm sunshine, Gaudi buildings, 
Coffee and croissant in a sidewalk cafe,  
Casa Batlló,  New espadrilles, 
Drinks and crispy fish in bodega la plata. 

Interior of Casa Batlló. There is not is straight line in the house! 


Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family Catherdral is most intriguing of all of Gaudis buildings. It's exterior resembles an ornate sandcastle, inside is surprisingly light filled, and colorful. 

Our last day was spent visiting the green Cuitedella park, the Arc de Triumph and the seaside neighborhood called the  Barcenoletta. We strolled along the beach promenade and had dinner of croquettes bacalla (salted cod) which is a Catalan specialialty. 

Gaudi, was he a genius or was he crazy? I think he was most definitely both!  Barcelona is a city worth a visit for the Gaudi buildings alone, but has so much more to offer. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Normandy Invasion

We had slow start from Cheltenham. It was chocka block on 417 due to Fairford Air Show and had to take a detour  a bit out of the way but at least we were moving. Made it to the Eurotunnel only to find an hour delay.  Good news though as there is a new Leon's in the terminal!! I've been wanting to eat there for some time. They were only in central London until recently. They specialize in organic, fair trade, healthy fast food. We all enjoyed our all natural fast food and felt so virtuous! Those people in the Burger King line really missed out!! 
Soon we were on our way through the tunnel and in France. Weather was overcast but not raining. Sun made an appearance as we passed Abbeyville and by the time we arrived in Rouen the skies were clear. It is a very easy drive. 
Finally made it to our hotel after negotiating some very narrow streets into the very center of town. We are very near to the cathedral of Notre Dame, sooooo convenient. 

We had a delicious dinner in a creperie, with plenty of cider, a local specialty. The night ended with a light show it was an interpretive telling of the story of Joan of Arc. on the cathedral facade. Fantastique!

We visited Giverny, home of Claude Monet. The gardens and house were just delightful. A dizzying array of color and design. 

We visited the town Marie St Eglise where the 82nd airborne landed by parachute just before the dday invasion. There is is a parachute still ganging from the church steeple. Many private gardens had plaques with the name of the soldier who landed there. This summer was the 60th anniversary. Shop windows were decorated to celebrate. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Sat we arrived late, very late. After picking up our car we noticed it had NO petrol. We had over an hours drive ahead. It was a bit stressful as we couldn't find a petrol station open, since it was so late.. I was not looking forward to calling our land lady and asking for ride. Fortunately, I didn't have to do that, but it was close. Our gite was an old stone barn conversion with a pool and summer kitchen. We had a roomy bedroom, living area with TV with BBC, ITV, and C4. With Wimbledon going on in London, I was very thankful for this! There was a well equipped kitchen with everything you would need to cook simple meals. Fresh flowers and a bottle of local wine were very much appreciated. 
We had a boulangerie a short walk away and I made daily trips for pan chocolate, croissants, and baguette. When in Rome... 

On Sunday we took a short visit to Isle sur de Sorgue, and went to our first of many markets.  Fruits and vegetable, sausages, cheese, and lots of antiques, clothes linens straw bags, some real bargains! There were pretty canals or streams that ran through town making for a very picturesque visit. My camera was going to get a workout on this trip. 
Lunch was had in a cafe recommended by our landlady, eggplant tart and quiche Lorraine and piche (carafe) of rosé. 
Dinner at the appropriately named, Cafe de Vignes, set amount the vineyards. Speciality was au feu bois, meat grilled over wood fire. I had the magret du canard, and Andrew had the Cassoulet. 

Mont Ventoux

The ride starts in the little town of Bedoin. The bike rental shop was conveniently located nearby and was a beehive of activity. Loads of bike riders are making the 22k ride to the top. Andrew was fitted with bike in just a few short minutes he was on his way up. The first several kilometers are a gentle incline but soon it turns into a 8-10% grade through pine trees. About 6 k from the top you break out of the trees and are in the barren white rock. The summit looks like the moon with white rock and craters.   At 2k from summit there is the Tom Simpson memorial. He was a UK cyclist who died of a heart attack while competing in the 1967 Tour de France.
 The accent took Andrew 2hours 30 min, the decent, 30 minutes. He had a go pro (mini video camera) attached to the handlebars that filmed the ride. It is quite scary, being not for the faint of heart. 

While Andrew was climbing the biggest mountain ever, I was perusing the market, eating ice cream! We met up afterwards and had lunch, drove up to the summit for some photos, then home to soak in the pool. Dinner was simple wine, cheese, bread, olives by the pool that I picked up at the market.
Another notch in this cyclist's belt. 

Tuesday Fontaine de Vaucluse, Gordes, Roussillon, abbaye senanque,  truffle hunting 
Part of the appeal of this area was its natural beauty, The hills, vineyards, olive groves, the lavender and sunflowers. We were thrilled that so many of these --- up to our imagining. Tuesday we took the opportunity to drive from town to town soaking it all up. Our first stop was Fontaine de Vaucluse, where a river literally bubbles right out of the ground. We followed the path and climbed over the fence (everyone was doing it!) right down to the blue pool and saw this amazing natural magic. The river then winds through the town providing energy for the local papermill still used by artisan paper makers. 

Hill village, Gordes

We could see up in the distance, a hill village so large it's buildings were seen miles away. We had to get closer and as we approached there were areas for pulling off the road to get a good look. Shear rock mingled with primitive cottages still inhabited. There was a church on the very top of the hill. The cherry on top!  We drove through and were surprised by the busy streets, with shops, hotels and cafés. 

Then we made our way up over a mountain to the Abbaye Senanque, where monks grow lavender, and grapes. This is a remote abbey that has become famous for the amazing products they produce with lavendar and grapes. Tourist flock to this spot to photograph the lavender in the shadow of the majestic Abbey.

Up and over again to Rousillon to see the ochre hills and rock formations for which the town is famous. 17 colors are found in the quarry some of which are ground to a fine powder and used to make paints. The homes in this area are all shades of ochre. Very French.  Camera still working! 

Needing a drink, a tabac shop along the way was the easiest opportunity. How odd to see Albert Camus books along side tabloid type mags! It turns out he grew up in this small village, and is the local celeb. Loumarin is the town. 

We had an appointment with a couple of cute pups at 6pm so after a late lunch  we made our way to Cadenet for a truffle seeking adventure. 
Lisa and Johann met us at their organic farm and introduced us to the pups and their owner Jean-Marc who trains the dogs to hunt truffles. 
Johann and Lisa met in Chicago, where they both worked. Johann inherited the farm domaine  from his grandparents. It's a big leap from Chicago to rural provence but they both seem to enjoy it. Johann is in the process of becoming a full time farmer also running a agritourism --- They fell into the truffle business by accident when Johann's childhood friend Jean-Marc and the dogs came to visit and dug up some truffles. 
We got to watch the dogs hunt as Johann explained how truffles grow and where to find them. After truffles were found Joahnn took us on a tour of the farm, entertaining us with stories of rural provence and the workings of the farm. His grandfather came from Paris and farmed the land growing grapes and olive trees.  Johann has planted more olive trees, apricot trees, truffle oak trees. They have a kitchen garden and a beautiful summer kitchen by the pool where we sampled the various truffle inspired appetizers and drank champagne. A very pleasant evening, indeed.  

Wednesday Avignon palais de pape, Pont du Avignon, pool, dinner in vaison de cafe 
In The late 1300s an Interesting rivalry between French and Italian Catholics resulting in the election of a French pope and the move of the papal palace from Rome to Avignon. It remained the center of the Catholic Church for 100 years. At one point there was both an Italian pope and a French pope. We spent several hours touring the palais. French popes like Innocence, Clement, but were not beatific popes like John Paul II or Pope Francis. They built lavish additions to the palais and were ruthless in their desire to hold onto power.  We saw the treasury, where money hidden under floors during medieval times was recovered in 1985 during a palais restoration.  Some mosaics and frescos still remain. In July and August Avignon is host to a large music festival and concerts are held in the main hall. 
We walked out on to Pont du Avignon made famous in the children's song. 
There is also a beautiful church ---- and garden on the top of the hill which gave welcome respite from the hectic city and beautiful panoramic views of the Rhône river. 

Thursday orange, roman amphitheater, museum lunch, chateaneuf du pape, wine tastings, dinner at Le Fleur Bleue in Cresenet

More historical sites were on the schedule to Thursday. We drove up to Orange to see the 2000 amphitheater.  It is still used for opera productions in the summer. That must be an amazing venue. We saw films of recent operas and Aida was particularly effective as you can imagine. No expense is spared on costumes and sets and the talent is top notch. It would be something to see. 
We also saw films of rock concerts held in the 70s with a young Elvis Costello. A nearby museum houses ruins from the amphitheater, some very well preserved mosaics are included. It also has a display about the fabric industry in Provence with paintings depicting the linen work houses the fabric designers, looms and shops. On display were documents telling of the indienne fabrics that were imported by the East India Company in the 18th century.  This was small museum but worth a visit. 
Orange has a bustling shopping area with some lovely shops. I had an amazing artisanal ice cream that was pretty much the most delicious ice cream I've ever had.   

Lovely church in a quiet square.  
Best Meal of the Trip award goes to Le Fleur Bleu. A friendly Dutch couple run this  rustic farmhouse restaurant. The tables are beautifully set under a kiwi vine with vintage silver and flea market finds in shades of blue.  The food is simple but amazing. Andrew had braised lapin (rabbit) and a cheese soufflé and I had dorado (fish) with a light curry sauce and braised fresh fennel, cauliflower and broccoli. Add fresh baguette, local wines and you get a very memorable meal.  

              Marseille was a real surprise and we wish we had allowed more time there.