Biarritz: The Pearl of France’s Basque Country

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There are places that are semi-legendary in your mind.  And when you visit them, they live up to that vision.  And sometimes they don’t.  Biarritz, France is not a place I knew a lot about but I did have an impression that it was for the rich and famous.  Its location, in the southwestern corner of France abutting Spain (just 22 miles from the border!) facing the Bay of Biscay, seems ideal with warmer climate and perhaps not the throngs of partying tourists that the Mediterranean coasts can attract.  It sits in the Basque region of France and is home to 20-30-odd thousand residents.

So, as we went from San Sebastian, Spain to Lourdes, France this past September, we decided to stop along the way.  It was not a long drive but we wanted an easygoing day.  As I looked at the map, I realized there were several neat towns along the coast and inland (like Bayonne).  As I talked to my Mom, she shared how she, when she was a girl, would read a novel with her best friend that took place partly in Biarritz and how they always daydreamed about Biarritz.  That settled it for me:  Biarritz would be our stop!

Our visit was short.  A walk around the shopping district after a meandering drive into town. Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

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Saint-Eugenie Church

 

Biarritz’ place on the coast certainly offers beautiful vistas and spots to take in the views – or get on a boat and see the city from the water (which I wish we could have done!).Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

And then, we just picked a place on the beach (the ‘Grande Plage’ – or great beach) to have lunch -not because it had the look of a great establishment, but simply because of the view out and the fact that we would sit in open air enjoying the great weather that day.

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We ate at a cafe off to the right

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The Grande Plage (big beach) of Biarritz

Biarritz most distinctive or massively impressive structure is the Hotel du Palais (of which, unfortunately, I took the picture split by a lighting pole…) built in the mid-1800s by the wife of Napoleon III.

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Hotel du Palais – and the pole in the middle of the photo

So, I can’t share much about Biarritz, its history or all the ins-and-outs of what to do and see.  But, if like my Mom, you have wondered what Biarritz looks like, I hope this post checks that off your list!

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With my beautiful mom and sister!!

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My sister!!!

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The teenager in the Biarritz of her dreams! It was about my mom that day!!

Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

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Lourdes, France is a one-of-a-kind kind of place.  For me, that is for two good reasons:

  1. It is the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette, a country girl with no education but a lot of faith.
  2. My mother and sister are both named after that site, where the “Virgin of Lourdes” appeared to Bernadette.

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    The lower and upper basilicas from the Information Center

I suspect both my mom and sister have always wondered if they would ever go to that town in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.  Wouldn’t you want to go to the town where your name came from or is related to?  In their case, maybe more than just for the curiosity of being namesakes with the town but also on account of what happened there in the mid 19th century.

The apparition happened multiple times and the local clergy had initially been skeptical but, over time, became convinced of the validity of what Bernadette shared.  I will leave to other sources to explain the whole story but the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette on a grotto near the river.  Out of these events, water sprung from the site and waters of Lourdes are, to believers, holy waters.  People from all over the world come seeking healing or just a spiritual encounter.  Many drink the waters from the spring, bottle some to take home, or even immerse themselves in special pools set up near the grotto (we did all three).

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The grotto

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Fountains where bottles can be filled

When we first arrived in Lourdes from San Sebastian via Biarritz and Bayonne, I was expecting the narrow streets, crowded and me driving this larger vehicle through it all.  I knew I was near the hotel, the Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres, which I had picked due to its proximity to the Sanctuary of Lourdes to make all the walking to and fro easier for everyone, when all of a sudden I saw a parking sign for it, not where the GPS was indicating I needed to go.  Miraculously (pardon the pun), I caught a passing glimpse of the sign before I would have hit the heart of the crowded part of town!

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The back of our hotel

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Right outside of the Sanctuary – tourist shop chaos

The hotel was in the old style of a grand hotel.  It was nice enough but, unfortunately, the A/C was not working on our floor.  Hard to tell with French hotels whether they are just being stingy or whether it was true.  Certainly, at night the air cooled enough to be comfortable in the room but the noise from the street did not subside until the very wee hours of the morning – not the faithful partying, I am sure.  So that made the hotel not perfect.  But other than that, it did the job nicely enough.

We had dinner before heading in the early evening to the Sanctuary, the site with the grotto and several churches/basilicas, almost across the street from the hotel.  We knew there would be a torchlight procession at 9PM where the Holy Rosary is recited but we did not quite know the ‘mechanics’ of it.  So we sat on a bench to wait and what we missed was that we were supposed to walk towards the grotto and join the procession line.  But we witnessed the procession which brought a statue of the Virgin to the front steps of the Rosary Basilica (the lower one; the upper one that one sees more evidently is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or the Upper Basilica).  In the meantime, we did walk to the grotto for our first visit to the spot where the apparition took place.  The line was very short and it was always moving so it did not take long before we got to visit and say our prayers and intentions…

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The front of the lower basilica during the torchlight procession

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Grotto at night

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Statue of the Virgin carried during the torchlight procession

The next day, we had found out at the information center (located by one of the entrances to the complex) that there would be a Spanish Mass at 11 AM down the Esplanade at St. Joseph’s Chapel.  After attending that Mass we went into the underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive modern space completed in 1958 (it can hold 25,000 folk!).  I am not sure it is the type of church I feel most spiritual in but I suppose there is a need for it in this site?

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Information Center

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The Basilica of St. Pius X

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The lower and upper basilicas from across the Esplanade

We finished our exploring by visiting the Rosary Basilica and the Upper Basilica.  After that we went to the baths (or piscines) where one can immerse him- or herself in the holy spring waters.  The water was absolutely frigid so the miracle may be that my legs regained normal body temperature!  All joking aside, it was a very moving experience and we are grateful to the kind and helpful volunteers who give of themselves to help pilgrims…

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Detail of the facade of the lower basilica

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The inside of the lower basilica

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Looking towards the Esplanade from the Upper Basilica

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Entrance to the baths or piscines

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Amazing to see all the people helping the sick, or malade, move around

Witnessing so many people wearing their faith ‘on their sleeve’ was powerful.  Our trip was actually not just due to curiosity, or even strictly to see a place where an important event in our faith took place.  Our trip was a real pilgrimage of thanksgiving and prayer for continued health in my family after a year-and-a-half of dealing with cancer…  The grotto and the holy waters of Lourdes carry a very special meaning for us, even more now that we have been so fortunate to visit this place…

 


 

Andorra: The Last of the Tiny Ones

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I wrote earlier this year about my visit to tiny Liechtenstein, second to last of the small European countries left for me to step foot on.  Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, it is protected by mountains which helps explain perhaps why it survived as an entity over the centuries.  Well, 2017 was the year to close the book of the small European countries for me:  I got to visit Andorra in September!

Andorra is a strange political entity – technically, a principality.  And oddly, without a royal family…  As Liechtenstein, it is nestled in mountains between two other countries.  In Andorra’s case, Spain and France.  It is an old place – first chartered over 1,000 years ago and the current version of it (i.e., the principality) created in 1278.  Back then, there were two co-princes:  a count from Spain and a count from France.  Well, the French side of things changed over time to just be the President of France whereas the Spanish side evolved to be the Bishop of Urgell, a Spanish town not far from the border with Andorra.  [An interesting factoid:  Andorra declared war against Imperial Germany in World War I but, somehow, it was left off the peace treaty ending that war so it remained at a state of war until 1958 (well past even World War II!) – awkward…]

In any case, we drove into Andorra on our way from Lourdes, France to Barcelona, Spain.  The approach through the Pyrenees from the French side was a beautiful, long ride through small rural towns and mountains.  We entered Andorra without a good spot to stop and get a picture with a “Welcome to Andorra” sign (or the equivalent…) – unlike Liechtenstein where I got to take that obligatory, cheesy pic.

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Typical French tiny (and pretty lifeless) town near the border with Andorra

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Pretty cool tunneling

In any case, the roads were really good and we noticed that while on mountains, one could see long, gradual slopes on some of the mountains around us.  I learned later there are a lot of lakes and trails in the 181 square miles that make up this country making it a great place to hike and enjoy the outdoors.  Or ski in the winter; ski tourism being a key income earner for the tiny country.

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Beautiful mountain landscapes

We approached Andorra’s capital, Andorra la Vella after passing a couple of smaller towns.  (Andorra la Vella has about 24,000 inhabitants to give you a sense of scale).  It felt very modern and it sits right by a river valley between mountains.  Great spot!

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In Andorra, near Andorra la Vella

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You kind of see where the capital lays in this photo (OK, almost…)

We stayed close to the oldest part of Andorra la Vella, at the Andorra Center Hotel.  I figured at least we could walk easily to the old buildings while being close to the main shopping streets and good restaurants (that I found in TripAdvisor).  We were very close to St. Stephen’s Church (finished in the 12th century) and to Casa de la Vall (a home from the 1580s that is now home to the General Council of Andorra). We meandered the older small side streets (not a large area) and then also walked the shopping streets in the area.  Except…

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My Mom, sister and I posing near St. Stephen’s church

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Water fountain

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Casa de la Vall

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Federal government offices next to Casa de la Vall

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Mom and uncle posing for me by Casa de la Vall

Except…  We noticed the streets were largely lifeless, empty.  Everything was closed.  We assumed it was siesta time and, hence, why everything was closed.  We learned when we got back to the hotel that it was Andorra’s national day and EVERYTHING was closed.  I mean, even the hotel’s little store!  Those restaurants which I had researched ahead of time were all closed.  These folks take their national day seriously but, yet, there were no festivities to be witnessed, no people just hanging outdoors either – very odd…

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Curious bridge (empty road)

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Around Andorra la Vella’s commercial district (empty)

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“Skyscraper” (empty?)

So, after walking around the old part of town, we ended up back at the hotel’s buffet restaurant since there were no other options.  We were going to leave the next morning early to head to Montserrat, Spain and then Barcelona so we had no time to spare in this tiny country.  While I was glad to check off Andorra from my list and now have a good visual of what it looks like (topographically and architecturally), I am bummed at the sheer bad luck (what are the odds??!!) and the lack of anything going on on a national holiday (at least seeing some local celebrations would have been cool).

Perhaps I need to return in winter to enjoy skiing with a bunch of visiting skiers?

Exploring France and Spain around the Pyrenees

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My recent trip to Europe was centered on exploring a bit of Spain and France around the Pyrenees which serve as a natural border between these two countries.  I wanted to write this introductory post to the trip’s writings as the trip combined a few different objectives that neatly came together into a one-week trip.

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There is only one way to travel, especially with loved ones!

My mother and sister are both named after the Virgin of Lourdes who appeared to a peasant girl named Bernadette in a grotto near the town of Lourdes in the 1850s.  It has always been a dream to go visit this place that was so prominent in their lives given the tie to their name.  But, we also wanted to go to Lourdes as a religious pilgrimage to such a special place for us Catholics.  We wanted to go in thanksgiving for good health after illnesses suffered, and as prayer for continued health.

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Two Lourdes!

Another personal goal for me and everyone in the larger family is to visit ancestral lands in the Basque country of Spain.  These are not terribly far from Lourdes (about 3 hrs drive) so I saw the opportunity to connect these two destinations in one trip.  The specific towns were our ancestors came from (they left Spain for Cuba at the turn of the century near the year 1800) lay along the coast between San Sebastian and Bilbao, and inland from there with some ancestors coming from just west of modern Bilbao.  Ii had also always wanted to visit San Sebastian as I heard it had some of the most phenomenal cuisine in Europe.  Bilbao is an hour from San Sebastian, give or take, so flying into the larger airport at Bilbao made the most sense.  There we would rent a car that would take us around the Basque country and later to Lourdes.

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At the Bilbao airport headed to get our car

While getting to Lourdes from San Sebastian would take so little time, we decided to be sure to stop along the way or drive through small French towns that are easily accessible on the route.  We drove through charming Saint-Jean-de-Luz, stopped for a walk and lunch at Biarritz, and drove through impressive Bayonne (wish we had had more time to stay there and explore!).  Biarritz was a place my mom and her best friend growing up had always dreamed of so that was a bonus!

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At the edge of the pedestrian streets of Bayonne’s city center

After Lourdes, the most logical end points if we were not going to backtrack, were Toulouse, France or Barcelona, Spain.  Well, that was an easy decision.  I had been to Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics for three days but, really, was too focused on the Games to get to know the city (plus, I was sure it had changed!).  My mom has been to Barcelona decades ago but my sister had never been.  So Barcelona became the end point for the trip which, very conveniently, allowed me to drive through Andorra, the last of the tiny European countries for me to visit…  We split the drive from Lourdes to Barcelona by staying overnight in Andorra (which may have been a mistake, but who knew – stay tuned for that post!).  This allowed us, on the way to Barcelona, to stop at Montserrat to visit the monastery nested atop a mountain and accessible by cable car or train.

crossword puzzle

I always look forward to crossword puzzles on long flights

This plan sounded so good that my mom’s only brother opted to join us in this adventure.  Next came resolving the plane tickets to get there.  My uncle was headed there from Philly so he worked his itinerary separately.  My mom and sister, coming from Tampa, would naturally fly through Atlanta.  I had saved many miles with the local monster airline hoping to someday to do a fun trip with family and decided to go all in.  I lucked out in finding three seats in first class from Atlanta to Bilbao via Paris, and from Barcelona back to Atlanta on dates that would work for everyone.  My mom and sister got to do first class all the way from Tampa and back so no one was unhappy with the travel comforts!

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The four travelers awaiting the train in Montserrat

Once in Bilbao, we picked up a car.  I had under-estimated the trunk capacity and, though the four of us did very well in bringing a small roller bag each, I needed to upgrade the vehicle.  Unfortunately, the next level up was not available which meant I had to upgrade two levels with no goodwill from the rental company (I will name it for its lack of spirit:  Sixt).  This cost me dearly but, considering the plane tickets were free, and that this was a special trip, well, no regrets and all the way onward-and-forward!  The plan was to return the vehicle when we arrived in Barcelona as we figured we did not need there and I figured I would be tired of driving a large vehicle in Europe (it was a BMW X1).  I was glad to get rid of it, much as it was a great vehicle to drive!

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Our wheels in Europe

In terms of accommodations, we hoteled it everywhere except in Barcelona where we rented an apartment a block from Las Ramblas – prime location!  The owner, Carlos, was phenomenal and the apartment was spacious, comfortable and as-advertised (if anyone needs to find this apartment, just reach out and I can share).

So in the end this was the itinerary:

  • Day 1:  Arrival in Bilbao and head to San Sebastian
  • Day 2:  Drive the Basque countryside and visit ancestral lands anchored on the town of Andraka
  • Day 3:  Depart San Sebastian and head to Lourdes with a stop in Biarritz
  • Day 4:  Spend the day in Lourdes
  • Day 5:  Drive through the beautiful Pyrenees and explore Andorra la Vella in the afternoon/evening
  • Day 6:  Head to Barcelona with a stop in Montserrat, Spain
  • Day 7:  Explore Barcelona
  • Day 8:  Explore Barcelona some more
  • Day 9:  Head home!

I have to say that we packed a lot into 8 days but it was well worth it.  We had a mixture of lots of walking, lots of enjoying the food and resting, and just happy to be together going to all these special places.  Hope we get to do it again – salud!

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Salud!

Ideas for Paris Travel with Pre-Teen Kids

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A friend asked me what to do in Paris as she was going with her kids for a week or so.  I do not have kids but I was one once and that, coupled with the fact that I have stayed at a Holiday Inn, fully makes me an expert at recommending stuff for kids.

My brain immediately thought “Paris Disney” but I really thought this would be a criminal offense when they have the opportunity to have a much more unique experience – and ilivetotravel is all about experiences.  Like chocolate and macarons.

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All sorts of good stuff can be found in Paris. And I am sure kids & adults alike will enjoy!

So here is what I tell my friend to do:

  • Jardin de Luxembourg – This, the second largest public park in Paris, was part of the Palace that sits right by it.  The Palace was built in the early 17th century and is now the French Senate.  The park has many statues and fountains.  Maybe your daughter can imagine how it must have felt in the 17th century being a princess walking around the gardens!  And your son may enjoy renting a sailboat to operate in the large fountain while you sit and watch people go by as you enjoy this garden!
  • The Pantheon – This is likely a quick visit.  Some of the most notable French figures are buried here but I don’t think that will impress the kids.  However, it was free (at least when I went years ago) and seeing a building with such a unique interior may be interesting for the kids for, at least, 10 minutes.  And you, the parent, get to see it!
  • Go up the Eiffel Tower.  I don’t know if the kids will be up to hiking up as far as they let you before you have to take the elevator to reach the top but I know you are fit and can climb it with no issue!  While the climb may be more work than the kids want to do, seeing the structure up close as you go up is neat.  But, in the end, it’s the view from the top that matters most so, whether you all climb it or not, go up!
  • Walk up the Arc de Triomphe. OK, if the kids didn’t want to climb the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe is another option available to help you burn the calories of all the delicious pastries you are likely going to be eating (I will be mad if you don’t!).  It is deceiving but it is like 14-16 stories high so it is not trivial.  The view is not as cool as the one from the Eiffel Tower but you can look down the Champs-Elysées from it and, on the other side, towards the modern arc-shaped building in the distance.  Oh, and please use the tunnels that go under the road – don’t attempt to cross the street to get to it!
  • Visit MontmartreIt is a great place to and walk the narrow and hilly streets (still making you exercise with this plan!).  To get up, you can climb the stairs but I will cut your kids some slack and suggest you all ride the little funicular.  Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with the massive Sacre Coeur church.  And guess what?  You can climb it to the top!  This one, I think your kids will definitely enjoy and great views of the city to boot!

    Montmartre, Paris, France, photo

    The narrow and hilly streets of Montmartre – explore!

  • I feel obliged to suggest a museum that may be good for kids.  But I had to do some research on this.  I found the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, or the Museum of Hunting and Nature (60, rue des Archives, in the third arrondissement).  It is supposed to be interesting for kids mixing animals (dead) and art.  Let me know how it is!
  • Pompidou Center (19, rue Beaubourg, in the fourth arrondissement) has a hands-on children’s area, not sure for what age exactly but it is free for kids so you can get to check out some art under the guise of taking them to a museum that has stuff for them (even if it turns out they are too old for what it has!).
  • Notre Dame is quite impressive even for kids but it may be a quicker visit with them.  On neighboring Ile St. Louis (the island in the river near Notre Dame), there is an ice cream place that is really good.  It’s called Berthillon (31 Rue St.-Louis-en-l’Ile).  Use that to reward the kids for letting you visit Notre Dame 🙂  And you can have one too.
  • Take a boat ride in the Seine.  Some of the boats offer fancy dinner cruises but there is a batobus (boat bus) that you can take to travel up and down the river –more fun than the metro (for the kids AND you!) and you can use this to see the city from a different perspective.
  • The Tuileries Garden (right by the Louvre Museum, at the base of the Champs-Elysées almost) is one of the most kid-friendly spots in Paris, and also one of the most beautiful.  There are trampolines, a merry go round, etc.    A large Egyptian obelisk is located outside on the west side of the park on the Place de la Concorde – could be a unique thing to see from ancient Egypt in Paris.

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    A view towards the Place de la Concorde and the obelisk. Note Sacre Coeur in the background!

  • Go into the many places that have phenomenal pastries and other decadent things, like these.  For the kids, you know…
    • Ladurée – several across town (one near La Madeleine, another on the Champs Elysees, etc.)
    • Dalloyau – there is one at 2, pl Edmond Rostand, right across the Jardin de Luxembourg; there are other locations like 101, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
    • Angelina (226 rue de Rivoli, right across the Tuileries/Louvre; incredible hot chocolate).  As you can see, I have conveniently picked places close to the others I have recommended so you have NO excuse for missing these!
  • Visit where Raúl lived (24 rue de Tilsitt).  OK, it’s a boring building one short block from the Arc de Triomphe.  Thinking it over, it may not impress the kids – or you – so only go if you run out of things to do 🙂

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    Yea, the building I lived in was boring but this is the view from the rooftop terrace!

Enjoy Paris and be sure to let me know what the kids enjoyed – from this list or otherwise!

Photo of the Week: Dreamy Delights in Paris

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Well, a photo of the week post is typically a one-photo deal but how could I choose between these two beauties???  Yes, I am swayed towards anything chocolate but this one tore me apart.  So, without further ado, two scenes from Dalloyau in Paris.

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I just want to bury my face in these!

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For a chocoholic to say these look AWESOME is a big thing…

 

A Short Stop in a Fine Town: Limoges, France

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The town of Limoges, in France’s center (west-ish), is well known for the fine porcelain that bears the same name.  An old town (it was founded around 50 B.C. by -guess who- the Romans), it sits in the region of Limousin, sort of east and north from the Bordeaux region.  In fact, we stopped in Limoges on our way to Bordeaux from Paris!

We went out for a walk and a quick lunch as we had limited time – which was a bummer because it would have been worth exploring more.  But in crossing the river we ran into the the Way to Santiago – one of the many routes followed since medieval times by people making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, where St. James is buried.  Pretty neat and lucky discovery as one of my travel companions had done the Camino a few years before (check out his very informative website – and great video – here)!  This bridge is Saint Martial‘s bridge which dates from the 13th century but built on the ruins of a Roman bridge.Pont Saint Martial, La Vienne River,Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Pont Saint Martial,Santiago, La Vienne River,Camino, Way of St. James, pilgrimage, Middle Ages,Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Since the Middle Ages people have been following the way to St. James! (Santiago)

Limoges, France, tavel, photo, architecture, city walls, arts museum, Canon EOS Rebel

The building top left over the city walls is an arts museum. The city’s cathedral is to its right

Pont Saint Martial, La Vienne River,Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

These bricks have been the way for pilgrims for centuries!

Pont Saint Martial, La Vienne River, Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS RebelThough we did not explore as we would have liked to, the architecture of the town was clearly charming (e.g., the city hall), owing to centuries of habitation.

Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebelarchitecture,Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebelarchitecture,Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebelarchitecture,Limoges, France, photo, travel, Canon EOS RebelNext time, Limoges, I will pay you your due!

Great Drive Series – A Switzerland Sampler

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

When I worked in Paris many moons ago for 6 months, one of the neat weekend trips I took was a rather rushed visit to Switzerland.  More than anything, we just wanted to leave France.  Having visited Heidelberg and worked in The Netherlands during that period, we opted to go south:  Switzerland (or Schweiz or Suisse, depending on which language you prefer).

We left work, grabbed our backpacks, and rode to the car rental offices in Paris to get our car.  We decided all this within i a day or two from leaving so had no big plans nor hotel reservations anywhere.  All we had identified was some target cities based on the easiest drive-around route.  This was when the Internet was not yet matured so even if we had had the time we would  not have gotten too much info on what to see and do.  So drive we did.

That Friday night, we overnighted in a French town named Besançon, a town of about 200,000+ residents, somewhat east of Dijon, and not far from the Swiss border for all practical purposes.  The town had an old casino which we thought we’d check out except it was all very smoky and we pretty  much just walked right back out, opting for dinner at some non-descript café before going to our small hotel to rest for the night.

The next morning we crossed the Swiss border where we had to buy a permit to drive in Switzerland.  I am not sure if that is still needed but make sure you find out before driving into the country.  We felt that to aim for Geneva would put us to far west and that we would have to backtrack on the same road to head eastward so we opted for passing on Geneva (much as it is definitely worth the visit).  We drove straight into Lausanne as our first stop though we made it a quick one to get info on the roads (i.e., get maps).  We spied the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee facing Lake Geneva, no doubt paid for by money the sponsors of the Olympics pay the IOC for their monopoly.  It looked like quite a pleasant city to live in, I must say.

Lausanne, switzerland, city, lake Geneva, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Sitting on the northern shores of Lake Geneva is Lausanne

Since we learned that Bern (Berne) and Interlaken were really the must-sees in the western half of Switzerland (we were not going to have enough time to explore the other half in one weekend AND return to Paris on time to show up at work Monday AM), we decided to not spend more time in Lausanne. The map below highlights in yellow the route we decided out which would take us close to Zurich but with no time to spend there, and would have us exit Switzerland at Basel, thereby minimizing backtracking in our route.

Switzerland, map, route, driving, Bern, Lausanne, Interlaken, travel, tourism

Instead we took off and decided the best route was along Lake Geneva (instead of heading back north of Lausanne and along Lake Neuchatel) where we were rewarded with views of the lake on one side and views of vineyards on the other (who knew!) before turning inland to head to Switzerland’s capital, Bern.  The weather, as you may notice, was not the best for awe-inspiring photography (as you can tell) but the sights were still beautiful.

Swiss, vineyards, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the many vineyards we drove by along Lake Geneva

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

THE narrowest steps I have seen, right by the road and NO handrail!

clock tower, Switzerland, Swiss architecture, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Clock tower

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Typical Swiss home along the shores of Lake Geneva

We arrived in Bern and sought the tourist information office – which you could count to be well-organized being a Swiss operation.  And it was!  The young woman helped us find a place to stay in the center of town – nothing fancy needed, just a clean bed and bathroom.  We checked in but immediately took off to our main target:  Interlaken.

The drive to Interlaken (“between lakes”), as the name alludes, requires you to drive along a lake.  The road was curvy and fun to drive.  We arrived at Interlaken and walked around, admiring the beautiful town and setting, with the ice blue waters flowing between Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienxersee) going right through town.  We found a neat spot to eat at and enjoyed a great late lunch admiring the view.

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

Beautiful part of Interlaken

After some more walking, we headed back to Bern (wishing we had not found a hotel yet in Bern so we could stay at Interlaken instead… ) to have dinner and see some of the town.

Bern, Berne, Switzerland, view, vista, photo, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking back towards Bern on the road towards Interlaken

The next morning we continued our drive (which took us back past Interlaken; the dreaded re-tracing of a route…) on our way to Lucerne, another Swiss town on the shores of the same-named lake.  We parked, walked around town, had lunch and started the long drive back to Paris.

One thing about driving in Switzerland is that there are never ending things to admire whether they be structures, lake, our mountains. You could say we barely scratched the surface on this beautiful country – clearly there are other great driving routes awaiting but for one weekend’s worth of sampling, I am pretty pleased!

 

Great Drives Series – Around Bordeaux

Chateau, Sahuc Les Tours, Sauternes, Graves, Bordeaux, France, travel, wine, vin, countryside, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I have done a couple of trips into Bordeaux where I have explored the region by car.  There really is no better way to explore the diversity of the region (and its wines!), which may seem at first to be more homogenous than it actually is.  To venture inland, near where Bordeaux runs into the Dordogne is to see a totally different Bordeaux than you may see in the Médoc.  To drive around Sauternes is definitely different than going to Saint-Émilion.

Bordeaux, landscape, vista, France, photo, wine, travel, Canon EOS Rebel, great drive, countryside

Beautiful countryside in Bordeaux

sunflower, Bordeaux, France, travel, photo

Fields of sunflowers dot the landscape in parts of Bordeaux

Both times I went were in the pre-GPS era but that did not make it difficult to drive around.  A good map (and a good map reader somewhere in the vehicle) is all you need to be able to explore this area without too much trouble.

Bordeaux, chateau, signs, driving, France, wine, travel

Plenty of markers/signs help the visitor find their way around!

St. Julien, Bordeaux, large wine bottle, wine, bottle, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

With helpful markers like this one, you know you are in wine country!

One of our stops was the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou where we were taken on a private tour of this grand winemaker (through which I would run the next day when I ran in the Bordeaux marathon!).

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, Bordeaux, Medoc, France, winery, vineyard, chateaux, wine, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (I would run right past this spot the next day!)

If you are somewhat interested in wine, there will be plenty for you to do and explore. The town of Saint-Émilion is one of the gems of the region.  Walk around but climb up to the top of the town.  There are cafés up there too and nowhere better to be when the sun sets, glass of wine in hand – of course!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, French town, France, sign, vines, photo,Saint-Émilion, Canon EOS Rebel

The way to Saint-Émilion!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, French town, France, sign, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Always remember where you parked in a new town! In this case, a nice map at the town entrance helped!

St. Emilion, Bordeaux, French town, France, view , photo, Canon EOS Rebel

View from the upper part of Saint-Émilion down to its main square

We enjoyed some of the big (and seemingly more commercial) chateaux but we also loved to more “rural” areas on roads less traveled and discovering the smaller vineyards and winemakers.  Some of the information offices and hotels had displays full of cards of the many chateaux in the area such as the one below.

wine, Bordeaux, France, card, chateau, travel

It was one of these cards that led us to discover a gem of a château in SauternesChâteau Sahuc Les Tours.

Chateau, Sahuc Les Tours, Sauternes, Graves, Bordeaux, France, travel, wine, vin, countryside, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The beautiful Château Sahuc Les Tours

The owners even sat down with us to share a bottle of their Sauternes and spent a good hour chatting with us about every topic that could concern French and American alike (they spoke excellent English).  Sauternes (in the Graves area), if you are not familiar, produces a sweet white wine bearing the same name made from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle grapes that have Botrytis cinerea (or “noble rot”) which concentrates the sugars.  We got to see the grapes up front as they began to look like raisins.  But don’t let the thought of rot keep you from drinking this wine!

Sauternes,  Botrytis cinerea, noble rot, wine, grapes, Bordeaux, Graves, Semillon, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Before and after…

That was such a good experience that I returned 7 years later to that chateau – and to my delight, one of the owners was there and, though she clearly could not remember me, realized I really had been there before as I recounted some of the things they had told us the first visit.  Connecting with locals in a real way is one of the rewards of venturing out and exploring this world!

sauternes, grave, Bordeaux, France, winemaker, photo, travel

The friendly owner of Sahuc Les Tours with a delicious bottle in hand

So while this post is about great drives, let’s not forget that this drive is about wine!  Cheers!

wine, Bordeaux, France, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A beautiful wine in Bordeaux

 

Photo of the Week – My Dear Paris

Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel, Paris, France, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, city, magnificent

A dozen years or so ago, I got to live in Paris.  I did not get to choose where I lived during those six months as my employer took care of that.  The place was nothing special EXCEPT for this one thing… The building had a rooftop terrace with a great view.  I assume it is enough to just show it to you and not describe it…  Voilà!

Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel, Paris, France, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, city, magnificent

Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower

Photo of the Week – Château of Azay-le-Rideau, Loire Valley

Chateau d'Azay Le Rideau, Loire valley, France, castle, architecture, renaissance, history, azay, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A few years ago, right before spending two weeks in Tours, France for language immersion, I spent a few days exploring the wines and chateaux of the Loire ValleyChenonceau, Chambord, etc. are all phenomenal castles to explore with their idyllic settings, great architecture, and sense of history.  One of my favorite settings and chateaux was the château in Azay-le-Rideau.  It was built in the early 16th century on an island in the Indre River and it just seems to come straight out of the water!

Chateau d'Azay Le Rideau, Loire valley, France, castle, architecture, renaissance, history, azay, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Loire Valley is a place to spend weeks exploring!

 

Photo of the Week – ilivetotravel on the French Riviera

Nice, France, French Riviera, tourist, travel, model, photography, tourism

This photo of the shoreline of Nice, France is from a LONG time ago – when I was very fortunate to be on 2-week business trips to the French Riviera.  It has been on my mind lately that I need to write about my trips there from those times.  It all starts with a picture!

Nice, France, French Riviera, tourist, travel, model, photography, tourism

Enjoying beautiful weather in Nice, France!!

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