A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about churches

Brussels and London

Reporting from Düsseldorf

sunny 15 °C
View Road Trip on aboo10's travel map.

So after a few quick days at home, changing clothes and sleeping in our own bed, and driving our real car... we headed off on the next stage of our Spring Break... a train to Brussels.

Brussels was gorgeous. We stayed in a Novotel, and split the kids - one with us, and one with Mum and Dad. The hotel was just off Grand Place, which was stunning. Overwhelmingly stunning. We checked out the churches, the mussels, the Mannekin Pis statue, and the beers. And some chocolate. Was perfect!!

Then after two nights, we jumped on the Eurostar and headed to London for my little nephew's christening. Once again, the whole of my side of the family was together again, with Mum and Dad, all of us staying at my sister's house. The christening was at their house, and was a sweet little service, followed by a sumptuous BBQ reception. Great chance to also get my brother-in-law's family together, so very special for them having both sides of the family all together.

We left Mum and Dad in London for a week, because sadly it was the end of the Spring Break and we had to get back home to go to school. It had been a great 2 weeks - full of activities and seeing so much.

Posted by aboo10 11:14 Archived in Belgium Tagged churches children london belgium uk brussels train_travel family_travel Comments (0)

Mont Saint Michel

Reporting from Düsseldorf

overcast 22 °C
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We left Bordeaux, not too early, but with a decent drive ahead of us, and a pin dropped on the GPS to take us to Mont Saint Michel. Our GPS has taken us on some magical mystery tours every now and again, with some odd route choices, and today, despite being a fairly significant landmark on the French coast, our search only came up with Rue de Mont Saint Michel, and delivered us about 40 km away from the actual site. Nevertheless, once we arrived there, we knew we were on the right track, and so continued on our way, following the signs to the Abbey, and finally we spotted it in the distance.


The parking lot for this busy tourist attraction is about 3 km from the causeway, but they do offer a free shuttle bus there and back. We had a moment worrying about what the tide might be doing, and whether that would affect us from visiting, but fortunately it was out, and they are also constructing a bridge to make sure it is always accessible.

I was impressed. The Abbey on the island seems to rise up from nowhere, and the walkways inside are steep, and closely packed with shops and people. You can just walk into the town, through the gates at the base of the island and wend your way up to the Abbey. There are a huge number of steps, and they are uneven and worn down through the effects of time and volume of use. The structure of the church is unusual, to compensate for being built on the top of a peak. The crypts were constructed first with the support of the church above to consider. The stained glass windows, the arches, altar, buttresses and the cloister were all beautiful, and looking through the windows over the beach, I felt the power in its isolation and unapproachability, could imagine that it was an ideal place for reflection.


I was not very impressed at the price of ice cream though!

Posted by aboo10 02:13 Archived in France Tagged mountains beaches churches buildings children family_travel Comments (0)


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.


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


Reporting from Bordeaux

sunny 30 °C
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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 13:01 Archived in Spain Tagged churches art buildings skylines children family_travel 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 14:51 Archived in France Tagged churches children family_travel Comments (2)

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