A Travellerspoint blog

Bordeaux

Reporting from Caen

sunny 25 °C

After a ‘French Breakfast’ of coffee and pastries, we headed into Bordeaux to have a look around. Our hotel is out near the university and is very basic, and seems to cater more to a long term business visits than tourists, so lacks things like a rack of brochures and maps. We are right on the tram line, and bought an all day ticket. Our first stop was at the Hotel de Ville.

The first thing that caught our eye, was the most amazing roof of the St Andre de Bordeaux cathedral. We went inside and a sweet young English university student offered us a tour of the Cathedral - just for the four of us, and pointed out a lot of the features! Including the one original wall from when it was first consecrated in 1096. The rest of the church was from the 13th and 14th centuries, and it is interesting to the changes in style throughout the church. A lot of the cathedral was destroyed during the French Revolution, and so over the last 30 years, a lot of restoration has been done, and some of it has been done to look like it would have in different periods throughout history. This was where Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future Louis VII, and also Joan of Arc has a connection here too.

We then wandered down to the Musée d'Aquitaine (archeological and history museum), and saw lots of Roman artifacts, and this big round window which had been removed from a church. Interestingly, I discussed what it could be with the kids. They kept suggesting that it was probably a wheel, bearing in mind that this was at person level, compared to in a church when it is usually high up in the rafters, and we talked about giants, and machines, but they took ages to decide that it could be a window.

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After making our way around, without really knowing where we were going, we decided it would be prudent to visit the tourist information office, and also to find out if it were possible to join a bus tour to a winery, so that when there we could both enjoy the wine tasting offerings. Bus tours were outrageously expensive, as there was no significant discount for the kids... I suppose they take up a full seat on the bus... so we decided to drive ourselves the following day.

Dad had recommended the Pomerol area, and so we headed out that way. We got to the town about 1pm, and there was nothing going on. All the wineries were desolate, and there was nobody there. We headed over to St Emilion, only to find out that all the wineries close for lunch between 12-2pm. I had been expecting fancy little cafes associated with each winery, a lot like those in the Yarra or Hunter Valleys back home. No food. We found one that showed some sign of life about 1.30 - and people were arriving there carrying baguettes and cheese, and setting up their own picnics (clearly in the know). I interrupted the staff having their lunch (which looked amazing), and they asked if we would like to join the tour at 2pm. Sounded fine. We went back to the car to see what we could scrounge up to eat - was not very appetising, trust me. The tour was terrific, it’s been a long time since I have been on a winery tour, so I really enjoyed hearing about the process. Didi and Jie Jie decided to document it all with their iPods, and are planning preparing a flow chart. They were particularly impressed seeing the grapes (which are not yet quite ripe for this vintage) hanging on the vines. I learned that in the Bordeaux region one of the regulations, is that there is no irrigation allowed, there is a clay soil on a limestone base, which retains enough water for the crop.

We then wandered around the medieval town of St Emilion, which was really charming, and had loads of little wine shops, some homeware stores and lots of restaurants and cafes.

One more sleep, then next stop Normandy...

(PS : more photos in my album!)

Posted by aboo10 28.07.2014 00:53 Archived in France Tagged churches buildings children winery family_travel Comments (3)

Barcelona

Reporting from Bordeaux

sunny 30 °C
View Camping Adventure on aboo10's travel map.

After packing up our campsite, which is no small feat to clean everything up, fold and repack furniture, bed sheets, clothes, and of course the tent, and get it all into the car, taking about 3 hours all up. Fortunately the kids were able to enjoy one last day at Mini Club, and Didi has of course endeared himself to all the staff, and we were able to do the disassembling in relative peace! Mini Club was over at 12.30, and we had left nothing in our campsite plot, and the kids walked down to have a look and were suitably impressed. We then jumped in the car for a very short hop - an hour and a half to Barcelona!

We are staying in an area of Barcelona called Poblenou, which was a factory area originally, but since the 1992 Olympics has been gentrified, and very nearby is the site of the Athlete’s Village, and less than ten minutes walk from one of Barcelona’s amazing city beaches. We are staying in a converted factory in an apartment hotel, it has enormously high ceilings and rough brick walls, polished concrete floors and exposed pipes, very trendy. Pool on the roof too.

Never done this before, but with expected temperatures of around 30 degrees, we opted to join the Bus Turistic for 2 days, there are 3 routes here in Barcelona, and lucky for us we were staying just off the Green, or beach route... so we joined the tour bus, which took us around the main sites of Barcelona, with some easy changes to other lines.

Our priority for Barcelona was Gaudi. The Basilica was the high point, but the buses only went in one direction, and the time around the routes was over an hour, so we needed to plan visits accordingly. So on Monday, our first stop was La Pedreda, an apartment building commissioned by one of Barcelona’s bourgeoisie in the early 1900s. Unfortunately for us, the facade is currently swathed in scaffolding, so we didn’t get to appreciate the ‘petrified’ wave, but we did get to enjoy the tour of the museum, and were blown away with the architectural features of the house. In the attic, an exhibition showed how Gaudi incorporated elements of nature, for example plants, animal bones, shells and water erosion, into his architecture. The roof ‘garden’ was amazing, felt a bit like a labyrinth, undulating with steps up and down, and sculptures shaped like the sea, and some covered with bits of tile, and others rendered smooth.

Next stop on our Blue Route bus tour was the Basilica. Could not believe it when we jumped on the bus that we ran into a colleague and her family from school. We were only going a couple of stops to get from La Pedreda to Sagreda Familia, and had to sit downstairs, inside as the upstairs, outside was full, and there they were, the seats just in front of us! They were heading to the Guell Park, and suggested that we might have a little issue with entry because of queues... but we needed lunch. We found a little place with a terrace and had a few Tapas dishes, then went back to join the queue to buy tickets at Sagreda Familia. Hmmm... 45 mins to buy tickets, to be told that the soonest we could get in was 5pm (over 2 hours away!) so we opted to buy tickets for 6.30, and ‘squeeze’ another site in beforehand! Back on the Blue Route Bus, to Park Guell - a park designed by - you guessed it - Gaudi! It was intended to be a property development, and be a private garden, but the housing development part fell through, and eventually, Guell donated the land to be a public park. Gaudi’s own home is in the grounds. After about an hour wandering, we headed back to our trusty bus, to sit on the whole circle back to Sagreda Familia. Didi had a wee nap, we listened to the commentary and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.

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Sagreda Familia was amazing. We sat outside for a bit and examined the facade. At the moment, the entrance is through the old section, which Gaudi was actually alive and saw constructed. The kids picked out some of the things they could see, like a lady playing a bassoon, and another one playing a harp and a menagerie of animals. We looked at a bronze statue which shows the expected finished product. And then we went inside.

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I can’t describe it. You’ll have to go and visit it. My photos don’t even do it justice; in the slightest. Some possible adjectives include: high, tall, sweeping, amazing, outstanding, enormous, elaborate, inspirational, polylithic (specifically Mike’s adjective), overwhelming, awe inspiring, genius, holy, OMG... The light which filtered in, was so gentle and soft, and the colours through the stained glass just lovely. And it seemed so light and airy.

Underneath the main apse, was a museum, with models showing how Gaudi had worked out the shapes of the ceiling, amazingly he had worked it out using chains, or strings and weights and gravity, and then inverted it using a mirror. I have to admit, it took me a while to get it. But once I could see what he had done, I recognised the genius!

At 8pm, when we were ‘kicked out’ we made a last minute visit to the ‘working church’ underneath, a service was about to be held, so we were super quick to get out and home for a very late dinner! Not surprisingly the kids fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow, and didn’t wake up until late the next morning!

We all felt the effects of such a big day out, and were slower on our second day. But smarter, because before we left we bought tickets for the two main things on our agenda online! And for the first, Casa Battlo, an elaborate Gaudi home, we also bought ‘Fast Pass’ - yep, just like Disneyland... so loved it, when we jumped off the Red Route bus, sauntered over to the door, had a bit of a look up, and noticed the queue snaking around the corner, to walk straight in, and just wait for the people in the door already to be given their headsets! This building is still a working home, with private people using (living or working in) the apartments on each floor, the first floor is the open apartment, with stunning stained glass, inside and out. Gaudi was particularly focussed on natural light, and so had incorporated light wells into the building, each with windows. To maximise light into each floor, the window size varied slightly, with the top floor having smaller windows where the light is brighter, and the lower floors having large ones to let in as much filtered light as possible. The light wells were also tiled in blue, and at the top it was a dark blue, to help cool it down, and at the bottom it was such a pale blue, almost white to enable additional reflection. Casa Battlo also had an outstanding roof terrace, the roof at the front looks like a big dragon is climbing over the top, and is covered with fragments of tiles.

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From Casa Battlo, we had a quick tapas lunch, and then jumped on the Red Route to take us all the way around to see something completely different... Joan Miro’s Gallery. He established a foundation to showcase contemporary artists, and also provide a home for his own extensive collection of art, plus his own work. It was an amazing gallery, and provided a terrific contrast against all the Gaudi art we have seen so far! The most amazing thing I saw was a mercury fountain, which was presented to the foundation by the artist Alexander Calder, in memory of Miro. It was in a contained glass box, so the mercury couldn’t splash around, but it was truly mesmerising. There were sculptures (by Miro) on the roof and in the gardens, and it was really lovely. We watched a movie on his history, and he was an experimental artist, and one of the first to do ‘junk’ modelling!

We then walked a little way to ride on the funicular, or cable car, Telerific de Montjuic, which took us up to Castle Montjuic overlooking the ports and all of Barcelona. The views were stunning. We watched the cruise liners, and the working port, and looked at the views to the mountains, and over the city.

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We had an amazing dinner, although we have been eating very late - after 9.30 every night... I don’t know how the kids are doing it, and staying up so late! I don’t know how we did either! We had a jug of sangria and a few tapas plates - the one which was outstanding was a very lightly seared tuna with a light sauce for dipping.

A sleep in was required the next day, and we didn’t end up leaving the hotel until nearly midday! The kids slept in until after 9, and woke up on their own. Didi had been begging to go to the aquarium, so again, we bought tickets online, and could skip the queue!! As far as aquaria go, it was ok - we have been to better, we have been to worse. We got home early to use the pool on the roof before going out for dinner again.

It ended up being another late night with our last Spanish paella and sangria, and although delicious, due to a mistake in the kitchen took forever, and so we were home after 11, and a second jug of sangria...

Today we have driven to Bordeaux. We had the most amazing drive through the Pyrenees. We went over the top of the mountain from Spain and into France, peaking at 1920m above sea level. The scenery was breathtaking, and we stopped the car at this point (signposted on the road) and had a look around, we could smell edelweiss and hear cow bells - truly alpine!

We arrived in Bordeaux, checked into our apartment and went out for dinner. What will we see and do here??

Posted by aboo10 24.07.2014 13:01 Archived in Spain Tagged churches art buildings skylines children family_travel Comments (2)

Camping on the beaches of the Mediterranean

Reporting from Els Prats Campsite

sunny 30 °C
View Camping Adventure on aboo10's travel map.

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OK, well not quite on the sand, but 200m or so back. When it’s quiet we can hear the waves breaking. This campsite is quite different to the last one... or maybe it’s just that summer holidays have started for many countries. Here we have French neighbours on each side of us, and our plot is about 7m squared, and along the row from ours to the beach there are about 10 tents or caravans and a small road. It looks like some people are here for the whole summer, and have proper fridges and tellies (rentable from the campsite) with them. Others have put a surface down or an awning up to extend their living space and have proper outdoor settings, rather than camp tables.

Every day the kids are off to Mini-Club, where they do crafts or treasure hunts and a range of physical activities. While they are there, I go and join in the Aqua Aerobics session in the pool. Afterwards we have a light lunch and then go together first for a swim in the Mediterranean which is gorgeous and calm. Jie Jie has built up her confidence and is swimming and diving into the waves, but Didi tends to stay chasing the breaking waves in and out on the beach. After a swim there, we go up and lie by the pool for a few hours. The kids both love the pool and typically let their hands and feet wrinkle up like prunes before they will even agree to getting out!

For the longest time, Didi has described his own swimming as ‘like a brick’, and has fought going in the water and putting his head under. He hated swimming lessons when he was 1, 2 and 3 years old, and was never much of a fan of having his face washed. He seemed to love going in the water, but was always insistent on having a floating ring or a bubble on his back and would never venture into deep water, or would cling on to us begging not to go under. It came as a little surprise when this week he asked for a snorkel. We bought both kids one, just cheap ones from the camp store. They came with a mask that blocks their noses. In the space of one short afternoon, he can now float and put his entire head underwater and use his arms and legs to propel himself through the water without touching the bottom. Now I’m not pretending he has suddenly turned into Grant Hackett, but he has announced now ‘I can swim and I can float at the same time, really!’. With a couple of days of practice he is now also happy to put his face under without the snorkel and mask!! And he doesn’t panic when using the snorkel if it fills up with water!! Amazing!!

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Yesterday we ventured from the norm and went to visit an old medieval town called Montblanc (not the home of the fancy pens in France). It was a walled city and surrounded by mountains. I loved it as it was still lived in, and the houses and alleys were quaint, but current. The town square was gorgeous, and we enjoyed a break in the early afternoon and had the most amazing Apple Carpaccio with Jambon and Raspberry Sauce tapas dish, with a fruity white wine. In the centre of Montblanc was St Maria’s, a gothic church, built on the site of a previous church, first consecrated in 1333. We were out in the heat of the day, and quickly learned from the dry heat, why many businesses close for siestas for 3-4 hours in the middle of the day!
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We have had a range of dinner options, enjoying Paella in the restaurant, salad and roast chicken, cooking on our camping stove and of course take away pizza... what holiday is complete without pizza?!?

Oh, and did I mention continuous blue sky.........

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Posted by aboo10 16.07.2014 08:34 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

One Day in Lyon

Reporting from Lyon

overcast 14 °C
View Camping Adventure on aboo10's travel map.

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "One night in Bangkok", but we had a glorious day today... albeit continuing with our not brilliant weather patterns, fortunately today was just cold and overcast, but no actual rain. Our break between camping destinations meant that we had 2 nights booked into a hotel, and a city to explore. Lyon did not disappoint.

We packed into one day a visit to Place Bellecour - apparently the largest unobstructed public square in Europe (no trees, greenery or structures in the middle), just one statue of a guy on a horse (OK it's King Louis XIV). Had a lovely wander around, and loved looking at the beautiful buildings surrounding the square. The surface is a red clay, like en tous cas on tennis courts used to be, and has little coffee stands around the edge.

From there we walked over to the Old Town (Vieux Lyon) and were heading to the Funiculaire station, where we were heading up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. The Old Town is gorgeously quaint with cobbled streets, and lots of little shops. We had a 'quick' look in St Jean Cathedral, which was beautiful, but under renovation, so only about half of the church was accessible, and the whole altar section was screened off.

We headed up on the funiculaire to the Basilica, and it was truly stunning. The walls are covered with mosaics, which from a distance are the most amazing pictures ever and up close you can see each individual tile in the mosaic. Interestingly the Basilica is not that old, being completed in 1884. Underneath the Basilica is the Crypt of St Joseph, and it has gracious high vaulted ceilings, and stained glass windows, which when you are outside the building, can see the stained glass windows at street level. The main Basilica has gold everywhere, highlights in the mosaics, and catches the light from every angle. The stained glass windows and the floor tiles are gorgeous. It is built on a high point overlooking all of Lyon, and the views are stunning.

Afterwards, we got the funiculaire down again, and caught another one up to explore the Roman Amphitheatres. Built into the side of a hill, it provides natural elevation for the audience. I loved that it is still being used as a theatre spot, and at the moment there is a stage set up, and a festival occurring each night. The ruins are stunning, and free to enter and roam around!

Our plan had been to visit a Natural History Museum, however our guide was old, and as much as the kids wanted to see some dinosaurs, unfortunately it wasn't to be as the museum had relocated from the address provided in 2007!! Oops. We had a lovely walk back along the Rhone River, and found a playground for the kids to unleash some energy. Then we looked for an early dinner, easier said than done, as most restaurants were not even opening before 7, but quite a few were open for drinks... luckily we found one which was prepared to accept us for dinner at 6.30. Kids... humph.

Photos are in my album...

Better soak up the luxury in a real bed tonight... will be back on the air mattress tomorrow... heading down to a beach in Spain!!

Posted by aboo10 10.07.2014 14:51 Archived in France Tagged churches children family_travel Comments (2)

First camping stop

Reporting from Lyon

rain 15 °C
View Camping Adventure on aboo10's travel map.

Here it is... home for the next 5 days.

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Awesome job setting up the tent, and fortunately with no hiccups remembering how to set up the tent. It was a two hour job, to get everything sorted - tent up, pegs in, table and chairs set up, and mattresses blown up!! And loved that we didn't have any neighbours close by. Campground was really a bit of a resort, with a pool, numerous playgrounds, mini-golf, an enormous Kinder-Zelt (children's tent, read indoor play centre!) a swimming lake (was bit leechy looking) and stunning views of the mountains around.

First night was the start of the adventure... and we were up against a storm. We got the kids ready for bed, and were all tucked in, and the storm started... I thought the tent might have taken off!! The scariest thing with a storm was hearing the constant drip of water, and knowing the bathroom block is a decent walk away!! So I spent most of the night awake, listening to the rain drip! Finally I decided I had to brave the weather, and relieve myself... unfortunately when I returned, I left the flap of the tent door, inside the tent instead of the outside... which meant that we woke to a small river running through the tent in the morning. Oops.

The next day was sunny and bright, and Saturday, so heralded the arrival of the weekend campers! Was nice to have some tent neighbours, but they did spoil the peace a bit, and were a big group who set up and slightly spoiled our view. We swam, and cooked our dinner outside, and enjoyed the campground. The kids loved having others to play with!! A quiet storm free night gave us a peaceful sleep.

We pretty much had rain on and off for the rest of our stay, which meant that we didn't get to use all the outdoor facilities. We went out to a Steam Train Museum, and a cafe for Black Forest Cake. The kids played in the Kinder-Zelt and I took the opportunity to read and relax. Nights were a bit chilly, and Didi woke most nights complaining of being cold, but both kids fell asleep soundly on their own. We have a tent which has two bedrooms, and a living area. The living area has a ground sheet, but is not completely sealed from the elements, so on another night with a violent storm, we were visited by a friendly (actually I didn't take the opportunity to introduce myself!) hedgehog, who had burrowed into our rubbish bag in our living area, and I was sure I could hear someone trying to untie it... fortunately Mike went to save us from being attacked by a killer hedgehog. But the little bugger came back. And again the next night!

We loved watching the birds circling around, and often spotted a yellow winged eagle who seemed to be narrowing in on something, but we weren't sure what! But circled above our camp most mornings.

We also spent a wet afternoon in Konstanz, on the Bodensee. It is a pretty little town right on the border of Switzerland. We looked at the Bodensee, and would have liked to get out on in, but the weather just wasn't favourable. Our campsite was so close to Switzerland, that our mobile phones kept on switching to Swiss carriers (which meant that we could have been charged international roaming while still in Germany!)

Yesterday we packed up the tent and drove to Lyon. Two nights in a hotel, before the next camping installment!!

Posted by aboo10 10.07.2014 13:08 Archived in Germany Tagged children camping family_travel Comments (1)

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