A Travellerspoint blog

Christmas and New Year in France

On Christmas eve we spent 9 hours in the car zooming down the highway and paying highway robbery size tolls to (hopefully) find sun in Southern France.

First stop- Aix-en-Provence (2 nights)

This city had a Christmas market that we strolled along at night with lights all around the city. It was very quiet on Christmas day and we had the whole place to ourselves to tour the beautiful architecture.

large__PIC2204.jpglarge__PIC2208.jpglarge__PIC2209.jpg

large__PIC2226.jpglarge__PIC2237.jpg
large__PIC2215.jpg

Can you find Ethan?

_PIC2216.jpg

This is my new favorite statue.

large__PIC2220.jpg

Warm water from a natural hot spring fills this fountain

large__PIC2237.jpg

So as usual, we found our way to the outdoors for some hiking. The region south east of Marseilles is a rugged coastline formed by glacier movement (fjords) also known as Calanques in French. We hiked to Calanque d'en Vau and saw a few other calanques along the way.

large__PIC2244.jpglarge__PIC2246.jpglarge__PIC2248.jpglarge__PIC2257.jpglarge__PIC2261.jpg

Ethan was not a fan of the cliff edge. large__PIC2266.jpg

Can you see the face in the rock?

large__PIC2268.jpglarge__PIC2269.jpglarge__PIC2274.jpg

The town of Cassis was the starting point for the calanques area and had a beautiful boardwalk that went out to a lighthouse and looked back on a castle on the hill. The castle is now a hotel.

large__PIC2283.jpg

Next stop- Moustiers-Saint-Marie (2 nights)

This was supposed to be a 3 night stop but every single one of the 25 restaurants in the town was closed for the week between Christmas and New Year. This made it difficult to find food! Also, the owner of the B&B we stayed at smoked inside, so we had to get out! We spent our first day there sipping wine on the patio and enjoying her incredible view of the mountain and olive grove and then checking out the little town built on the hillside. We walked up to the church at the top and had a great view of the town.

Random town along the drive to Moustiers with an incredible old gate.

_PIC2287.jpg

The neighbor's curious deer.

large__PIC2302.jpg

Views of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

large__PIC2299.jpglarge__PIC2306.jpglarge__PIC2308.jpglarge__PIC2311.jpglarge__PIC2320.jpglarge__PIC2373.jpg
large__PIC2379.jpg

We spent the second day hiking in the Verdun gorge (which is a major attraction of the area).

A little town on the way to the gorge.

large_FB194B3EBECCA9F9D4B0693E8AC08BEC.jpg

The gorge

large_FB1ACA97A0B8F63D5C1ED884974B1545.jpglarge_FB1C168899CF4F3A2F29DF3FA020F54C.jpglarge_FB1D5E1EC9E3A1E68D908D0B2E29C9A6.jpglarge_FB1F4257A7C86FBD718BC739F56DF3C3.jpg

Dinner that our hostess made for us. She was a good cook; good thing, because we had no other option!

large__PIC2383.jpg

Since we skeedaddled out of there early, we had a little bit of a car ride to our next destination. Quinn let us catch up on some zzzzz

large__PIC2385.jpg

Third stop- Arles and Uzes (1 night)

The city of Arles. I have been wanting to check out this city for some time because it has a very famous coliseum. We had the best meal of the trip in Arles. We also pretty much had the place to ourselves. I really love the French style

large__PIC2387.jpglarge__PIC2388.jpglarge__PIC2390.jpglarge__PIC2391.jpglarge__PIC2393.jpglarge__PIC2395.jpglarge__PIC2397.jpglarge__PIC2399.jpg
large__PIC2422.jpg

Our friend Jeremy convinced me to buy this red coat when he came to visit over the summer. I am glad he did. It is fun to wear red in the winter.

large__PIC2401.jpg

Door to a kitchen of a restaurant. Who doesn't cook in a cellar?

large__PIC2416.jpg

Creepy!!!!!

large__PIC2417.jpg

We didn't take many pictures in Uzes but it is one of our new favorite towns. It is very quaint and we are looking forward to seeing it again in summer.

large__PIC2428.jpglarge__PIC2432.jpglarge__PIC2438.jpg

Over the summer we bought some wine that we love from an Inn where we stayed. We went to the winery where it is made to buy more but no one was home! We were so sad. The winery is a small one and I think they are in the process of renovating this property. It is going to be so cool one day.

large__PIC2439.jpg

Fourth stop- Perpignan (5 nights)

When we arrived at our rental apartment we were quite surprised to learn that we would be staying in a senior center! They rent out empty units to travelers and are very inexpensive. It was well decorated and so spacious and it was really fun to interact with the seniors as we were coming and going from our place. It turned out to be a great spot, but it was just a little weird to check in at a nursing station!!

large__PIC2470.jpg

Views around Perpignan

large__PIC2446.jpglarge__PIC2466.jpg_PIC2462.jpg_PIC2467.jpg

We drove out to Casteil to do a little hike that turned into a pretty big hike. The refuge at the top had the best view around!

large__PIC2490.jpglarge__PIC2499.jpglarge__PIC2502.jpglarge__PIC2505.jpglarge__PIC2506.jpglarge__PIC2517.jpglarge__PIC2521.jpg

An abbey in the valley.

large__PIC2526.jpg

Ethan diving into the leaves, over and over and over again.

large__PIC2484.jpglarge__PIC2486.jpg

On the way home we stumbled upon the most amazing of stumbleupons. An old city wall. Completely intact. Around an actual operating town. I have never been able to truly feel what it would have been like to live in a walled city until we visited Ville-Franche-de Conflent. Quinn wants to go back and spend a whole day taking pictures. There are only two little streets with buildings lining each one. It is really hard to describe. Hopefully, his pictures will give you an idea. There are tons of aerial shots online that might help.

large__PIC2545.jpglarge__PIC2541.jpglarge__PIC2540.jpglarge__PIC2539.jpglarge__PIC2536.jpglarge__PIC2535.jpglarge__PIC2533.jpglarge__PIC2527.jpg

There are two or three gates that serve as entrances to the town and on top of the hill is a fortress for defending it. It is so remote in this valley I can't imagine that it needed so much defense. I guess that is why it is still intact today.

We celebrated the New Year in Collioure. France is not particularly known for its public celebrations for the New Year, but Collioure is one place that has a big street party with stands set up on the coast serving champagne and fresh seafood including oysters, which I tried and will not be trying again.

They also had an animated light show set to music projected onto the church wall that jutted into the ocean. The unique thing about this town is that the old town is built right on the water and the harbor/beach area is surrounded by the old buildings. It makes for a perfect opportunity for a party. An older woman befriended us and insisted on buying us food and wine and drinking with us. She was the life of the party, and spoke very little English. She talked away in French with English sprinkled in, but it didn't matter, we had a great time. The theme for the evening was 60's so we saw some great outfits. People were dancing and so friendly, and the longer we stayed, the more people talked to us. It felt like we knew the whole town.

First a view of the town from up on the hill, before it got dark.

large__PIC2547.jpg

One of the narrow streets. They were all filled with art vendors and restaurants.

large__PIC2550.jpg

The light show also had music and movement. This just gives you a tiny taste of what it was like. We were super lucky to score a table at a cafe just before the show started! Quinn has eagle eyes and cat reflexes.

large__PIC2552.jpglarge__PIC2558.jpglarge__PIC2559.jpglarge__PIC2561.jpglarge__PIC2567.jpglarge__PIC2569.jpglarge__PIC2571.jpglarge__PIC2572.jpglarge__PIC2574.jpglarge__PIC2577.jpg

The party animals.

large__PIC2594.jpglarge__PIC2600.jpglarge__PIC2604.jpg

The DJ booth. There was a lot of Michael Jackson!

large__PIC2609.jpg

The next day we cruised around Perpignan and saw the castle on the hill. Of course, there are more obligatory food pictures.

large__PIC2616.jpglarge__PIC2622.jpg

Adults having fun with bubbles.

large_90__PIC2620.jpg

Our drive home was 10 hours long. Here are some random things you see on European road trips.

large__PIC2626.jpglarge__PIC2639.jpglarge__PIC2645.jpg

Who needs a pick up to haul something when you have a jaguar?

Whew! That was a big, fun, exciting trip. Ethan needs a nap.

large__PIC2646.jpg

Posted by trackers 12:58 Archived in France Comments (0)

Thanksgiving in Belgium

So, we got a nice traditional American Thanksgiving this year thanks to our awesome Belgian friends Pieter and Liesbeth. We had them to our house last year for Thanksgiving and this year they invited us to Brugges to celebrate a Thanksgiving with their family and friends. Everyone made traditional American food and some even put a Belgian twist on it. We loved it. We brought the turkey and fryer and we even got Pieter and his vegetarian friend to do the injections! It was so fun to spend a holiday with our Belgian family and friends. They took us in and we enjoyed a fantastic evening together.

large__PIC2148.jpg_PIC2151.jpglarge_90__PIC2154.jpglarge_270__PIC2162.jpglarge_270__PIC2165.jpglarge__PIC2173.jpg

Pieter and his mom. She made green bean casserole! Isolde and her grandma. Isolde is sporting her baby shower gift from us. Pretty sweet dress huh?!

large__PIC2172.jpglarge_90__PIC2177.jpg

We even had a professional butcher to carve the turkey! Thank you Keuhn.

large__PIC2179.jpglarge_90__PIC2184.jpg

Thanksgiving feast attendees (minus Pieter, I think he was putting Isolde down for a nap).

large__PIC2186.jpg

A little out of order here but the first night we got to see Pieter's band play which was super fun. It was a sort of a Balkan, Ska mix and was super fun. I really loved the sound and feel of the music and each song had such a different feeling. No pictures from this event but we really enjoyed it.

Also, they introduced us to the holiday of Sinterklaas which turned out to be the same weekend we went to Belgium. This is kind of like Santa coming a little early with presents for the kiddies and chocolate and sweet bread. Families leave out carrots or sugar cubes for the horses and something else for St. Nicklaus that I cannot remember. There is a long history behind it with many movies, stories and songs associated with the event. The most interesting part about it for me is the black men who travel along with St Nicklaus for the event which seem to have conflicting histories. We heard from some people that they were slaves who were freed by St Nicklaus and worked as his helpers to give out toys and we heard from others that they were black from the soot in the chimneys. We enjoyed a sweet breakfast and watched our friends little baby Isolde open her gifts. She was so excited about each one and especially loved a little toy doll.

90__PIC2192.jpglarge__PIC2194.jpglarge__PIC2195.jpglarge__PIC2197.jpg

Next year they will have baby number two because Liesbeth is pregnant again! yay! So excited for them!! Congratulations guys. Thank you again for letting us share our tradition with you and including us on your traditions. This is a memory we will always keep :)

Posted by trackers 13:28 Archived in Belgium Comments (1)

Thanksgiving in Domodossola

Where is Domodossola? Well, if you couldn't have Turkey for Thanksgiving, what is the next best food to eat? Italian of course. So we drove to Italy. I picked a random spot off the map and we drove there. It appeared to be the closest Italian town over the border but those pesky mountains proved otherwise. It was quite a winding road to get there that included multiple mountain passes and at least 3 bridges that could only fit one car one way. Actually, I am not even sure that one car should be on them. Maybe only a small compact car like a Nissan March should be on them. I chose a hotel at 10 pm the night before we left and did pretty much no research on the area or the hotel. My deciding factor was that our room had a fireplace. When we got to Domodossola we learned that we were not really in the town but up the side of a mountain. We went up and up until we thought we had gone up enough and then called our host and she instructed us to go up and up and up some more. Then we came to a dirt road. Then we passed through a village built in the 1700s. Then we found our inn. Which turned out to be a farm with a building built in the 1800s that was in the same family since that time. Cool. Our room had a roaring fire and amazing wooden beams and was the perfect place to spend a long weekend.

large__PIC2038.jpg

Our hosts (a husband and wife team) welcomed us and were a wealth of information. Their property was a working farm with goats, rabbits, a dog (friend for Ethan), chickens, and turkeys. One of the goats peed while we were there and caught the pee in his mouth. Does anyone know anything about this kind of thing? As you can see in the picture, I was not so excited about petting the goat after he drank his pee.

large__PIC2126.jpglarge__PIC2129.jpglarge__PIC2133.jpglarge__PIC2141.jpg

On our last night there Marco and Patricia invited us for dinner at their house, which was connected to our room. We spent such a fun evening with them chatting and laughing and drinking carafes of wine from their 55 liter wine jugs. I wish I could buy wine in 55 liter jugs. Patricia spoke English well but we spoke with Marco through gestures, Italianglish, and google translate. It was really fun. Italians are natural born communicators. When they found out that my family is from the region of Piemonte, they were even more excited to talk about all things Italian. It was really a fantastic experience. One of the things I love most about traveling is making connections like this.

large__PIC2146.jpg

Marco is a life long hiker who was basically a walking map of the area and told us a new hike to do in the area every day. We probably could have stayed there a month without repeating a hike.Okay, out of order a bit, but hiking on day one. We went to a mountain lake. We hiked for about 4 hours the first day. Lots of icicles. I might have gotten a little excited about pictures and icicles.

_PIC1992.jpglarge__PIC1994.jpglarge__PIC1996.jpglarge__PIC2001.jpglarge__PIC2002.jpglarge__PIC2009.jpglarge_90__PIC2013.jpglarge__PIC2016.jpglarge__PIC2021.jpg

There is nothing better than relaxing by a fireplace with a roaring fire after a day of hiking. Marco had the fire roaring when we returned. What fantastic service.

large__PIC2035.jpg

The next day we hiked through a cute mountain town onto a dammed lake.

_PIC2039.jpglarge__PIC2048.jpg_PIC2050.jpglarge__PIC2052.jpglarge__PIC2054.jpglarge__PIC2058.jpglarge__PIC2059.jpg_PIC2060.jpg_PIC2064.jpglarge__PIC2068.jpglarge__PIC2074.jpglarge__PIC2076.jpglarge__PIC2081.jpglarge__PIC2093.jpg

Our last day we hiked through the little town that we drove through on the way to our inn. It had become sort of a living museum with plaques everywhere describing life in in the 1700s and 1800s. There were also little drawn pictures hidden throughout the town. We really learned a lot about how and old little mountain town would have operated during that time. I'm not sure that the pictures do it justice.

large_90__PIC2104.jpglarge_90__PIC2107.jpglarge__PIC2111.jpglarge__PIC2113.jpglarge__PIC2117.jpg

can you see the cat in the hay?

large__PIC2119.jpg

We ended the weekend with trying to get some to go food for the drive home. Clearly we have learned nothing about Italy because "to go" is really not a very normal concept. So, we did it the Italian way and sat down for an amazing lunch that included pasta, meat, salad, and wine for 10 bucks a person. It was delicious.

This weekend encompassed everything I love about Italy. Our hosts were fantastic and treated us like family, we got to be outdoors and see beautiful scenery, and we had delicious food. Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by trackers 05:54 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

A baby shower for friends

So, for those of you who don't know, I am not a fan of attending babyshowers. However, I do like to throw parties so I AM a fan of throwing babyshowers but only once every 2-3 years or when the mood strikes me, or when someone is pregnant. Turns out it was time to do a triennial baby shower when two of my really great friends here announced they were preggers. My girlfriend, Megan, and I do different projects on Fridays so we put a few Fridays aside a planned a kick ass babyshower that included a "paint your art out" event. Luckily for us, Megan is an artist. I was the technical director and she was the artistic director and we had a great time.

The proud soon to be moms. Congratulations Erin and Emily! We are so excited for you both. Please note the hand made Super Mom capes.

large__PIC1962.jpg

Many of the food items were "pinsperations."

90__PIC1957.jpg_PIC1956.jpg_PIC1944.jpg_PIC1942.jpg_PIC1939.jpg

We also made Mocktails and Cocktails. I may have taste tested a bunch of the cocktails while Megan worked on the capes. Remember, I was the technical director, not the artistic director so I was just staying within my scope.

_PIC1935.jpg_PIC1936.jpg

Our fearless art leader (sorry its blurry). Her workstation organization is questionable.

large__PIC1969.jpg_PIC1973.jpg

The Students
large__PIC1968.jpg

The end result

large__PIC1984.jpg

Posted by trackers 08:56 Comments (1)

Slovenia

Our friends Megan and Ian wanted to make one last trip to Slovenia before they move back to the States. They came up with the (semi) crazy plan of driving there for a long weekend and we, of course, signed up immediately. We started late after work and flew through the German countryside and we made it to Austria in the middle of the night. The hotel we booked sent us a picture of where to find our key and it was right where they said. This system cracks me up. Can you see the little envelope just below the chalk board?

large__PIC1668.jpg

This little town in Austria, called Hallstatt, is on every "must see small towns in Europe" list out there. So I have been wanting to visit for quite a while. You can see why by the pictures. Turns out that it was only an hour round trip out of the way of our route. The town has a really unique history as it had access by only one road until the early 1900s. There was a lot of information about the renovation of the road but Ian, our group historian, is not writing this blog so you are stuck with my basic knowledge of it. Anyway, I will let the quaintness of the town speak for itself.

large__PIC1670.jpg_PIC1671.jpglarge__PIC1678.jpglarge__PIC1679.jpg_PIC1682.jpg_PIC1683.jpglarge__PIC1684.jpglarge__PIC1685.jpglarge__PIC1689.jpglarge__PIC1879.jpglarge__PIC1694.jpglarge__PIC1698.jpg

My lunch looking at its previous home

large__PIC1702.jpg

The picture postcard shots; fall was really a great time to visit this locale

large__PIC1705.jpglarge__PIC1711.jpglarge__PIC1704.jpg

I think this is an advertisement for gummie bears

large__PIC1709.jpg

Part of the drive popped into Italy and passed through some old mining towns that seem more reminiscent of Poland than the Italy I am used to. The mountains of this area are absolutely fantastic and are an extension of where the Dolomites run into the Julian Alps. Crossing the border into Slovenia, we ran into an old border crossing and military outpost. There are a lot of these in this area from World War I. Ultimately, we arrived at our final destination of Bovec, Slovenia. This town was picked off the map for its proximity to the mountains, and it could not have been a better choice.

large__PIC1723.jpglarge__PIC1724.jpg

Our first restaurant that evening was quite the experience. The Slovenian and Italian forestry services were doing a joint exercise and all of the service members were eating at our restaurant. In the middle of dinner they broke out into song. I kid you not. They had phenomenal singing voices and were doing different harmonies together. Then they came over to chat with us and buy us rounds of schnapps. One of the guys (likely in his early 70s) was a professional rock climbing guide who had climbed many impressive mountains including Half Dome. Another was an Italian forestry man who had lived in the States and Canada and was a professional helicopter pilot. They regaled us with stories and basically made the evening. It was a little weird to just whip out the camera and take a picture so we only have a picture of the food. The food is a combination of Italian, Austrian, and Slovenian. There were so many things on the menu and it was delicious down home kind of cooking.

_PIC1733.jpg_PIC1734.jpg

We rented a little apartment with the most death defying staircase. It had feet specific stairs that required the utmost concentration, not an easy task when you wake up in the middle of the night and have to go down to the bathroom. Our view was fantastic.

large__PIC1740.jpg_PIC1742.jpg

The next day we went for a hike. We really enjoyed seeing all of the leaves changing colors.

Clearly a leisurely hike in the woods is not complete without shots of schnapps. I have never seen this as a "thing" until moving to Europe. Apparently, this is the norm around here. Here is a series depicting how delicious this tasted.

_PIC1754.jpglarge__PIC1756.jpg
_PIC1757.jpglarge__PIC1758.jpg_PIC1761.jpglarge__PIC1763.jpg_PIC1764.jpglarge__PIC1766.jpg

large__PIC1751.jpg

large__PIC1767.jpg

Our trail was a little difficult to follow and kept dead ending into different people's cabins and sheep.

_PIC1770.jpg

large__PIC1778.jpg

Photos from the hike
large__PIC1785.jpglarge_90__PIC1794.jpglarge__PIC1797.jpglarge__PIC1798.jpglarge__PIC1803.jpg

Along the way, we ran into an ICECREAM truck! Are you kidding me? We flagged him down and were so happy to have ice cream. How often does this happen on a hike?

large__PIC1809.jpg

I will call this color, "glacier blue."
large__PIC1811.jpg

The leaves were spectacular the whole weekend. We must have timed this trip right, because the colors were at their peak, and all day long the scenery changed as the sun moved through the sky.

large__PIC1819.jpglarge__PIC1834.jpg

We hiked the next day in Kobarid. This hike had beautiful views including waterfalls and fly fishermen, historical sites, and spinach pies known locally as burek. YUM!
large__PIC1840.jpglarge__PIC1842.jpglarge__PIC1848.jpglarge__PIC1866.jpglarge_90__PIC1874.jpglarge__PIC1879.jpglarge__PIC1882.jpg

We also found a wine shop/fancy restaurant/fancy hotel that let us do a wine tasting. The wine tasting itself had a lot of flair with the sommelier swirling wine in the glasses to clean them before we tasted, a roaring fire in a very swanky fire place right in front of our table and locals coming in to sell their freshly picked mushrooms and wild produce to the chef for the evening meal. She paid them in cash and wine! It was quite the experience and we all made our purchases of the unique wine of the region.

It was such a fun weekend, albeit a long drive, and we bid farewell to the area with one last amazing view as we drove through the Italian side of the Julian alps. This is likely our last trip with our friends before they move back to the States and we will miss our adventurous outdoorsy couple duo immensely. All the best in Denver! We will be there to visit soon!

large__PIC1894.jpglarge__PIC1902.jpg

Posted by trackers 10:15 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 192) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »