A Travellerspoint blog

Barcelona and Beyond...

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For the final stage of our trip we headed to Spain but first we were to stop at Perpignan for 2nights and say goodbye to our closest friend and guide for the past six months, our Peugeot car. Perpignan was a location Bret was meant to visit one of his friends back in the days before he had meet his better half but never did. It has a beautiful town centre and a strong Rugby league history with many Australians having played there. It would also be our first introduction to the Catalunya region, more known at our next stop, Barcelona.


Barcelona was one of our must do’s for this trip and on first impressions I knew we were in for a good 8 days. The weather was good (just like home – hot and humid), the World Cup was about to kick off and Bret’s cousin Cameron (currently living in Scotland) would be joining us for the week.

Barcelona is a fantastic city. Modern beach culture and traditional Spain, all within minutes of each other. On our first day, after settling into our apartment, we headed down to the beach area, Barceloneta, and were lucky enough to come across a street festival with hundreds of musicians and dancers. The participants were mainly male of varying ages, unfortunately we were not able to find out what the festival was about, but there was a hint of Mardi Gras in the air!!!


A real highlight of Barcelona was seeing the formation of a human tower in front of the town hall. After seeing this on TV many times, nothing can compare with seeing it take place before your eyes. Without any safety equipment, the strength, agility and courage of the participants of the tower was nothing short of impressive.


Our time in Barcelona was filled with many more highlights, including exploring Gaudi landmarks, walking the La Ramblas and visiting the Nou Camp. We would tempt ourselves to Paella, tapas, beers and icy cold Sangria at one of the many bars that line the beach and of course the beginning of the World Cup.





No doubt the highlight for the boys was seeing Australia v Chile (and especially Tim Cahill’s goal) in the Irish Pub at midnight with a handful of Aussie expats and fellow travelers.


After Barcelona we started heading across Spain to Morella for two nights, a beautiful hilltop village, known for its cherries. Back in the day, dinosaurs also roamed around these parts and the village has a small museum housing complete dinosaur bones that had been found in the area.


Next stop was a two night stay in Madrid, Spain’s capital. Another beautiful city, Madrid was abuzz and preparations were underway for the new Kings inauguration that took place within days of our visit. The palace was exactly how you would expect a palace to be, but the definite highlight was lunch, recommended to us by our host. Calamari on a bread roll (very typical in the area) eaten in a small noisy bar full of Spaniards for 2.70Euro. On our final morning in Madrid, we indulged in a breakfast typical in Madrid – churros with Coffee or chocolate. We went to where the locals go, standing up at the crowded bar. I found them a bit disappointing, but Ben was so impressed with them, he headed back to the bar that same afternoon only to be told they were only made for breakfast.



Salamanca was next on our agenda, the home to one of the world’s oldest universities. The town is stunning; full of old sandstone buildings and monuments. After spending the afternoon walking around the city, it was time for more World Cup action. We headed to the town square (possibly the most beautiful we have seen) and saw that all of the bars, cafes and restaurants had televisions set up. We would be watching the game under the stars! Unfortunately, the results did not match our backdrop with Australia losing to the Netherlands and Spain losing to Chile.




After Salamanca we headed to Porto in Portugal. Our apartment was right on the river with the spectacular iron bridge set right outside. Porto, has a completely different feel to it than any other town we had visited, it feels quite dark and the houses and churches are covered with tiles which gives it a unique look. It feels quite rundown with many renovator delights to be had and first impressions were not great but the place grows on you and after exploring the town for a full day we were happy that we spent 2 nights in this town as it gave the boys something different to experience again.




Back into Spain we spent our final days in San Sebastian, known for its beach and surf culture. The beach was just like we have at home and the water was crystal clear and very inviting, however the weather was not on our side – wet and windy, not great for swimming.



One day we headed back into France to Biarritz, a very classy area, again with great beaches but unfortunately more bad weather.


Food has without a doubt been a big part of our trip and we have tried to indulge in the local cuisine whenever possible. The specialty of San Sebastian is Pintxos (Basque country tapas). The way to enjoy Pintxos is to go bar hopping – one Pintxos and one drink at each stop, a fantastic way to enjoy a light lunch.


Next stop Paris for our final weekend.

Posted by AllisonP 09:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

French Riviera... Playground of the Rich and Famous.. and us

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After what seemed an endless winter, summer finally arrived just in time for our stay on the French Riviera. On advise from one of our French hosts we decided to spend our week in Antibes, located between Cannes and Nice. On arrival we all fell in love with the area and immediately extended our seven night stay to 10 nights. I would be spending my birthday on the French Riviera!!!!


Our apartment was located in the old town about a five minute walk to the beach and the harbour. The village certainly had that summer holiday feel with everyone looking relaxed and enjoying the traditional French surroundings.





Most of our time at Antibes was spent relaxing at the beach and even though the water was freezing we did manage a few swims. A lot of our time was spent admiring the many super yachts that were either moored in the harbour or just off shore. Our time at Antibes coincided with the end of the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix, so I’m guessing this is how the rich and famous relax after work!!!



On the few occasions we dragged ourselves off the beach we headed into Monaco, Nice, Saint Tropez and Cannes. Monaco was a bit disappointing. A concrete jungle with a small harbour, it was nothing but an opportunity for the cashed up to flaunt their incredible wealth. Sports cars and designer labels a must. The drive to Monaco takes you past Villerfranche, possibly the most beautiful bay in existance.




Nice was beautiful, the highlight being the beach stretching in front of amazing hotels and architecture. The water was a brilliant shade of blue, however not a grain of sand was to be seen. The beach consisted of pebbles and stones so a deckchair is necessary, not a problem for the French. All along the beachfront designated areas are full of sun lounges, umbrellas and bars. If your willing to pay its a great way to spend the day at the beach.




Finally we visited Cannes. Again, another beautiful beach, this time with sand. Designer stores, beautiful restaurants and hotels lined the foreshore. Markets are everywhere in France and Cannes was no exception, however this market sold pre-loved designer wear, bags and shoes, not a fruit or vegetable in sight.



Saint Tropez is another playground for the rich. We did not get much time to spend here but it was the only place I have seen a Christian Dior cafe.


Once again, our time here came to end all to quickly. We have definitely loved our time in France and were fortunate to be able explore more than just the Eiffel Tower.

Next stop Barcelona.

Posted by AllisonP 10:43 Archived in France Comments (2)

ahhh... Provence

25 °C
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This week we headed south to Provence. It seems that the further south you travel in France the more beautiful it gets. The village in which we stayed, Arles, is famous for its Roman ruins and bullfights. It is also where Vincent Van Gough made home for a short period and a number of landmarks in the village are featured in his paintings.



The region of Provence is known for its lavender and I envisaged fields of purple as we drove along. Unfortunately not one lavender plant was to be seen, I think it was too early in the season, however the souvenir shops were full of the stuff.

The villages that make up the region of Provence are picturesque and well worth the visit. Markets, long lunches and window-shopping at Aix-en-Provence and Isle-en-Provence were enjoyable and relaxing.



On a visit to Avignon, we saw the Saint Benezet Bridge, one of the most famous bridges in France. It was built between 1171 and 1185 with only four of the original 22 arches remaining. A song has been written about the bridge and it is taught in French schools, a bit like ‘Waltzing Matilda’ for the French, if your French regardless of your age you know the song. Avignon is also home to the Papal Palace where seven Popes resided from 1309 until 1377.



One of the most impressive structures in Provence is the Pont du Gard. The aqueduct bridge was built in the 1st century AD by the Romans to carry water. It is the highest of the Roman built aqueducts and the best preserved. Situated in a beautiful valley, the French locals swim in pristine water and sunbake along the river.



At times walking around Arles felt like being in Italy with strong Roman influences everywhere. An ancient arena and amphitheatre still remain in the middle of the village and are still used today for concerts and animal friendly bullfights.




We have seen many markets throughout the last six months, so consider ourselves to be knowledgeable enough to know the difference between a good one and a great one. Without a doubt the Saturday markets in Arles was the best we have seen. Fresh produce, spices, seafood, pastries, bread, olives and smallgoods. A real foodie’s paradise.



Next stop the French Riviera.

Posted by AllisonP 12:30 Archived in France Comments (2)

A week in the Dordogne...

sunny 22 °C
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Sometimes when you arrive at a new destination it takes a while to feel comfortable, others times you feel right at home on arrival. As soon as we arrived at the stone cottage in the Dordogne and were greeted by its English owners Steve and Jane we instantly felt at home. The house was beautifully decorated and extremely comfortable. After a month of constantly moving around it was time for some down time and this part of France was the perfect place to relax.


The Dordogne is classic French countryside. Perfect stone houses with colourful flowers, picturesque villages, fields of fresh produce and the Dordogne River complete the picture. Most of our time was spent relaxing in the garden, enjoying the warmth. The boys would play football while Bret and I would enjoy the wine and local culinary delights. When we did venture out it was to see the local markets that were around the region everyday or to walk around villages that were straight out of a tourist brochure.

Sarlat Markets

Sarlat Markets

The two well known towns of Beynac and Sarlat are beautiful, but the lesser know towns of St Cyprien, Belves, Berbiguieres are just as nice, in fact you just don't travel pass any town in this region which is not picture perfect.


Beynac Castle

Beynac Castle

Having had enough of churches and museums it was suggested the boys might enjoy a visit to a cave that had been discovered in the area only recently. Expecting to see a few stalagmites and stalactites, we headed into the cave with our english speaking French guide. What we saw was nothing short of spectacular. The caves were full of crystals that resembled coral - mother nature at her best.




After a few days of recharging and once again feeling energetic we decided a 28km canoe trip down the Dordogne River was a great way to see the many villages that lined the river. Canoeing is very popular in the region and at the peak of the holiday season up to 10,000 canoes can be in the river; luckily for us we almost had the place to ourselves.

Canoeing the Dordogne

Canoeing the Dordogne


Fitness seemed to be the flavour of the week as Bret and Ben started daily jogs. Out the front door, down the pebbly driveway, past the local farmers working their fields and along the country road to Berbiguieres or Cladech. They noted that the wonderful country side did not make it any easier.

There are also a number of medieval castles in the area, so we headed to Castelnaud-La-Chapelle, a Chateau that would change from the French to the English during many times during the 100 years war. We have seen many castles on our trip with Castelenaud being amongst one of the best. It is beautifully maintained with amazing views of the river from the top.

Le château de Castelnaud

Le château de Castelnaud





One of our highlights for the week was having dinner with Steve and Jane. With good food and wine, great conversation without the need for a French dictionary and lots of laughs it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday night in the French countryside.

Duck, Pork and roasted vegetables in duck fat!

Duck, Pork and roasted vegetables in duck fat!

Our dinner guests - Jane and Steve

Our dinner guests - Jane and Steve

All too quickly our week in the Dordogne had come to an end, we could easily spend a year here, perhaps one day we will.

Next stop Provence.

Posted by AllisonP 11:45 Archived in France Comments (0)

Five Beaches, Two Chateaus and an Abby

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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On our way to Mont Saint-Michel

On our way to Mont Saint-Michel

So far, our time in France has been a mixture of history, war, culture, fashion and chateaus. Our last 9 days sure has been varied.

With the western front behind us, we headed to Amien for an uneventful overnight stay. However, things soon livened up the next morning when a Frenchman reversed into the front of our car. Luckily there was no major damage, but we had to question how this could have happened given we had driven through crazy Italy without incident and then be hit in an empty carpark in France!!!! After dealing with the at fault Frenchman we headed to Rouen.


We didn’t know much about Rouen, but it is quite significant to the French given it is where Joan of Arc was killed, the exact location is marked with a small memorial. Her tomb is located within the church. After a few hours looking around Rouen, we headed to Caen, our base to explore to Normandy region.

Point Du Hoc

Point Du Hoc

Normandy is an apple growing region and is famous for its cider. The beaches are another drawcard, in particular the beaches of the D-Day landings which to this day retain the names given to them by the Allied forces, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.



Remnants of the war are still visible at the beach and there are a number museums dedicated to the landings.


The American war cemetery is a beautiful tribute to those that perished during the operation.


Our last day at Caen was spent first at the local market and then off to a number of picturesque villages filled with restaurants, specialty shops, tourists and locals.



After Caen we headed to Granville. From Granville we were able to visit Mont St Michel, a monastery built entirely on a granite rock, surrounded by the sea. The monastery can be seen from many kilometres away.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

After a quick look around the village, we headed up to the abbey and were fortunate enough to see part of a religious service complete with singing nuns. It sounded amazing.



Granville is also the birthplace of Christian Dior, finally something right up my alley. His childhood home sits on top of a cliff with beautiful ocean views, surrounded by immaculate gardens. Inside was a museum showcasing photographs of models wearing his designs, together with actual garments. I was in heaven and even though they tried the boys couldn’t get out of there quick enough. Unfortunately I had to walk away without a souvenir.

Christian Dior Museum / original home

Christian Dior Museum / original home

Our next stop was the Loire Valley, the home of France’s famous chateaus. We picked two of the biggest names to visit, Château de Chenonceau which was immaculate and Chateau de Chambord which was nowhere near as impressive, mainly due to its poor condition and lack of gardens.

Château de Chenonceau

Château de Chenonceau

With elaborately decorated rooms and vast gardens it was an interesting glimpse into what life would have been like for the privileged back in the day.




Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been great whilst we’ve been in France. We’ve had enough of the cold weather, its definitely time for some sun. South of France – here we come.

Posted by AllisonP 14:03 Archived in France Comments (0)

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