A Travellerspoint blog

The Bottles are Rattling, pt. 2

Southern France

As you know, food features prominently on this blog. Throughout Provence, the meals were awesome, and the biggest complaint we typically heard from our travel companions is that they spent their entire day feeling full. We typically started off the day with cooking a breakfast at the house we were renting, doing a little bit of touring, having some snacks on the patio, swimming in the pool, and finishing the day with a dinner out at a local restaurant. Sometimes there would be a lunch stop involved, and in the process we would make a point to see some of the local sights. It was also during this spot in the trip where Kristen and I would try to sneak off for a ride in the morning before our guests missed us. I'll make an effort to summarize, but it could get long winded. We love Provence.

Our first night out proved to be quite a success. We dined at a restaurant in the town of Villars, which has maybe 200 people, and all of them seemed to be out to enjoy a musical performance in the square. I can't say it was good, but we speculated that they likely had won the local battle of the bands and were therefore the default performers in the area.

As for the food, the plate on the left is duck and the one of the right is fish, and both were amazing. I think we grabbed a card if you are ever in the area.


We took this pic for my cousin Brett, who is nicknamed Spud, and is a standout jumper in track and field. This should be his personal logo as far as I'm concerned.


On our first day in Provence, we hit a lot of great little towns with views that stretched for miles, buildings that date to the 12th century, and wine that we couldn't carry enough of. I also can't get over how blue the sky is here. No other place I have been provides such clear blue skies and white puffy clouds. This first town is called Oppède le Vieux, and there are only narrow little walkways.


Here Kristen is trying to get a peak into a property with a wall around it. I took this for evidence later.


I won't highlight each little town, but we also stopped in Oppede, Menerbes, Lacoste, and Bonnieux. At this point, it is tough to tell which is which, but this area is worth a visit.

I'm not really sure what is happening with these sculptures and the ruins from this castle, but it felt like it would have been designed by the family in Beetlejuice.

If I remember correctly, it was slightly hot on this day, so after some hours of exploring, hiking up and down the steep little streets and getting carted around in a hot car, everyone took the afternoon to relax and spend some time by the pool. The property we were at had a great pool and a lot of land, and was the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

The next morning after our bike ride, we went on the hunt for lavender. This area is known for its lavender fields, and it is possible to find soaps, oils, honey and even ice cream all flavored with lavender. We were here at a good time and were able to take in some beautiful countryside blanketed in lavender.



In addition to lavender, nearby is an area called Le Colorado Provencal. It is likely that the state as we know it was given its name from this area, but to me it is more similar to terrain found in Sedona, AZ. Nonetheless, it is quite stunning and certainly seems almost out of place in the french countryside. This particular area lies just outside the town of Rustrel, and 20 miles to the west is another town called Roussillon that is also known for its red rock. On one of our morning bike rides we ended up in Rustrel and another in Roussillon.


This guy was hot and found a creative way to cool off.


Here is a picture out the window where we were staying, and a picture of the property. This place was really amazing, because it was once a farm that had fallen into disrepair, and a guy bought it, turned the outbuildings into apartments, cleaned up the property and built an awesome pool. The main house has more rooms than I can remember, but I think there are 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms, and he still has his work cut out for him. It is the kind of place that immediately gets my brain turning on taking on a project like this in the future.


After 3 days in Provence we got on the road to Languedoc. Along the way we stopped for a view of Gordes. We were here last summer and took the same picture, and it didn't lose any of its splendor. It is a very incredible medieval French town.


Our home in Languedoc was another renovated farmhouse in the town of Saint-Marcel-sur-Aude. This place was larger than the first one, and the apartments were built within what was likely the stables and the barn. There were 12 apartments on the property, again with a pool, and a large farmhouse. This one was owned by a German family, and unlike the place in Provence, they lived there full time and managed the property. There was an onsite store that was the most unique I have seen anywhere, because there were local wines, honeys, crafts and trinkets that were priced the same as from the producer, but you could take it whenever you wanted on the honor system. Guests wrote down what they took and how much it cost, and when checking out, paid for whatever they had taken.

I don't even remember anymore what we did after we checked in. I know we were greeted immediately with a carafe of rose and olives, both local to the area. I think we then drank the free bottle of wine that was on our table when we got to our room and went to dinner. Like I said earlier, this trip included a lot of time eating and drinking wine, with some sightseeing in the middle.

Thankfully there are pictures from the next day. We drove to Peyriac-de-mer to see a bird sanctuary and sea-salt production. Unfortunately it must have been too hot for birds, because we didn't see a single one. We tried to salvage things with a stop at a winery, but that too was closed.


Gruissan was next on our list, and ended up being a winner, but the heat was certainly keeping more people indoors. Having the towns to ourselves wasn't all bad though, because when we stopped at an ice cream shop we were able to sample almost everything they had. Gruissan is known for the fort built on a steep hill in the center of town, but I thought it was amazing for the walkability, the flowers along the promenade and the quaint feel of the little fishing boats in the bay.


Imagine getting your morning bread from a floating store. We saw a boat cruise up next to this place, hand some money over, and get back a bag of bread. It was really more of a tourist shop with souvenirs and things, but the bread was authentically French.


Polly really wanted to take a boat ride, and after a long day in the sun, the rest of us weren't all that excited about it. It's always good to support the group though, so we went along. It turns out that we all really enjoyed the boat ride, and our captain was quite entertaining. We had the boat to ourselves aside from a woman and her dog who were just getting a lift home, and enjoyed a relaxing cruise along the Canal du Midi. It is possible to take the canal clear from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but according to the captain, that feat takes a few days. Along the canal there are houseboats that are permanent residences as well as rentals and vacation homes.


Here is the other passenger with her shaggy dog, and her home where we dropped her off.


There is always graffiti and some of it is more entertaining than others.


It is hard to see what is going on here, but the canal actually crosses another river. It seems really strange to be in a boat on a bridge.


Our captain. He was a retired Dutch riverboat captain. He and his entire family all piloted barges of coal up and down rivers of Northern Europe. Now he does this for fun, which is why he is willing to take 4 people out for an hour for a very affordable rate.


Locals are very proud of this bookstore and the captain encouraged us to check it out.


The boat tour started and ended in Le Somail, and the captain said there was no other place along the canal he would rather live. I can attest to the fact that this area is very beautiful, and the food is quite good too, though I'm not sure if they compete with Provence on that one.


Because we just couldn't quite get enough boating, we found a place in Roquebrun to do some canoeing on our last day in Languedoc.


Our mornings were again spent cycling the area. Here are a few snaps from that.


Just as our guests were starting to get in the swing of our travel tempo, we had to drop them off for their flight home. Their final stop was Barcelona, but of course, we had to hit one more stop along the way in Besalu. The 12th century bridge into town was worth the stop.

From Barcelona Kristen and I made the push to Grenada, which Google says takes 8 hours, but is really closer to 10. And why have we never heard about the tolls in Spain? Anyway, Granada's big attraction is the Alhambra, and it is close by to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the namesake to the range in California. I loved it here, but Kristen was less convinced. The tight streets make it tough for walking a Ethan. Kristen also took a digger on a gravel road outside of Granada while riding our bikes.


Spain still has 22 bullrings according to Wikipedia. We visited 3 of them on this trip, the first one in Granada.


We were lucky to be in Granada during a weeklong arts celebration, and were lucky to get 2 of the last tickets for a flamenco music performance in the Alhambra.


A hike into the Sierra Nevadas. There were people cycling to the top which caps out at just over 9000 feet, and they looked either really strong or really tired.


The Alhambra did not disappoint, but it was pushing 100 degrees the day we were there, and one of us was caressing a large bottle of ice water.


From Granada we moved to Ronda, with a quick stop in Setenil de las Bodegas. Homes here are built right into the rock walls, and in some cases consume the entire house.


Ronda's main draw is called the Puente Nuevo (new bridge), built in 1751 to replace the old bridge built in 1616. There is also a bullring with a really large museum and collection of antique guns.




American Pancakes in Spain. We normally have pancakes on Sundays, so it was nice to keep with tradition.

We checked out of Ronda a day early and tacked another day onto our reservation in Seville. This was the best choice we made this trip, as Seville is one of my new favorite cities. I'm getting really long winded on this blog, so I'm going to start Seville on the next one. I'll leave you with a few pics from Zahara, on the road to Seville.


Ethan was having some eye issues.


And the Spanish are so committed to siesta that even the parking meters don't work between the hours of 2 and 5.


Posted by trackers 08:30 Archived in France Comments (1)

The Bottles are Rattling

This summer, Kristen and i decided on a road trip to Spain. We took 4 weeks off of work, and set out with our route and our stops, and not a lot of planning. My mother, Mitzie, and my aunt, Polly, decided that they would like to join us for part of the trip, so they flew to Germany and drove along with us through Switzerland to Rapallo, Italy, along the French Riviera, through the French regions of Provence and Languedoc and ended their trip in Barcelona. I'll start off with some shots of our drive through St. Gotthard Pass, which is one of the most scenic roads in Switzerland.


The first night hotel had an excellent ocean view. It didn't take long to settle in and enjoy some wine on the patio. It was a long drive getting here, and everyone was ready to unwind a bit. We took turns picking out our dream homes off the hillside around us.


We had a delicious meal at an old mill, where the food just kept coming and every plate was better than the one before it. We were apparently all too hungry to take many pictures of the meal. We allowed the server to guide our decisions and as we have come to expect in Italy, this is the right decision. Kristen is seen feeling quite proud in this one since we had picked this place out before even leaving home.


We decided the best way to see the Italian Riviera was with a boat ride. We hopped on a boat from Rapallo to Portofino and in about 30 minutes our visitors were hooked. I think Mitzie had her new home picked out within minutes.


Kristen came loaded with some new dresses for this trip, and decided to model one of them at the harbor. I also figured you boat lovers would appreciate the speed boat with the triple 300 horsepower outboards. The harbor in Portofino is quite impressive in its own right. The sandstone cliffs, colorful hillside towns and bright blue water are almost a bonus.


Another popular way to enjoy the scenery is to hike one way along the coast, and there is a very well marked path returning to Rapallo. We thought it would be a nice way to enjoy the day. Ethan found it to be a very hot way to enjoy the day, and quickly found an Ethan sized swimming hole to cool off in.


We wound up eating a lot of fish on this trip, because this is certainly an item we do not get often in Germany. Frequently the entire fish was grilled or baked and brought out to the table head and all. They cleaned it for us in this particular restaurant, but this is not common.


We only had a short stay in Rapallo. I wish it had been longer. The food and atmosphere of the Italian Riviera is really exceptional. Our next location was Bordighera and we stopped along the way in some additional Italian coastal towns. There was certainly a lot on the itinerary for this trip, and we were up and moving bright and early in the mornings. In Corniglia, we were treated to some great ocean views, shopping, and focaccia bread. We also saw this woman trying to fish her clothing off the neighbor’s line when it fell off hers, a very troubled little boy, and a macho photo shoot.
Just down the road we stopped for a stroll on a promenade that is built into the face of some very interesting rock formations.


We spent the night in Bordighera, and had a delicious dinner and a stroll around town. The restaurant owners produced their own Limoncello and when we commented on how delicious it was, they gave us our own bottle. In Italian fashion, they refused to take money, but just told me to enjoy my trip with my mother. This was also our first stop with a pool, so we were able to enjoy some relaxation time. I guess I was so relaxed I didn't take many photos.


After Bordighera the trip moved on to Provence France. Our stop along the way was Nice, France so we could see the French Riviera and see if it lives up to the hype. I think our group preferred the Italian side better. There is some interesting architecture though, and a great diversity of food. We actually ate Thai for lunch because it smelled delicious. Every time I leave Italy, I miss it, but there is nothing sad about heading to France.


Random item being carried in an old American pickup truck...


That's it for Italy. Tune in next week for France.

Posted by trackers 07:51 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The Loire valley

I found a really awesome biking itinerary online and we attempted to recreate it ourselves on a trip to the Loire valley. It was a successful trip although we didn't get to bike as much as I had hoped due to my terrible allergies. First of all, I must talk about the little cottage where we stayed. It is definitely in the top 3 airbnbs we have ever stayed in and might be my number one. Here is a link to it. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5388508
Its a little remodeled farm cottage with all the amenities plus old world charm. I just loved the old stove and the amazing garden. We spent every afternoon out there in the hammock sipping French wine and enjoying a meat and cheese tray...yum. Here was our breakfast spot and typical morning spread.


The Loire valley is know for its many chateaus. Oh my goodness, they are not kidding. It seems like every town has an amazing chateau as its centerpiece. Quinn and I joked that if you grew up in the Loire valley the rest of the world would be a let down. Chateaus in the Loire valley are as ubiquitous as Walmart in America. I cannot believe I just made that comparison.

Day one: we rode from our little town of Noizay to Amboise Chateau. This one has amazing grounds that had a really great view of the city. The parts of the chateau that you could actually tour were quite small but seeing all the typical furniture was really interesting.

This is the view you get when approaching the town. Imagine riding up to this bad boy on a horse and carriage!


View from the balcony looking out to town.


View from the other side where you can enter.


The grounds and my favorite tree!


Some details and art from inside


Pic from the town and some really unique brick designs



Just down the block (literally) is the Chateau du Close Luce. This is the Chateau where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life. We didn't go inside of this Chateau but we did tour the unique gardens. Throughout the gardens are models and exhibits related to Da Vinci's work. I knew he was famous for painting and architecture but I had no idea he was a famous city planner and also inventor of military equipment. He was such an amazing inventor! I really loved the way they featured his inventions and built replicas and incorporated them into the garden. They had replicas of movable bridges, ideas for the first tank that shot from all sides as well as cannons that had a fan type effect with shooting from multiple angles.


This is where they raised thousands of pigeons. Two would roost in each hole. Pigeons were important for food, communication, and displaying one's wealth. The outside is a cylinder but the inside is an octagon to house more pigeons and also to ensure air flow between the inner and outer walls. A lip on the outside wall ensured little critters couldn't climb up and kill them.


Quinn saw this beautiful rooster (he claims the most beautiful he has ever seen) and it reminded him of Grandma Doris.


Day two: We rode bikes to Chambord Chateau and then Cheverny. We went into the Chambord but not Cheverny. We just got a peek a boo view. It was a really gorgeous bike ride. The whole time we were at Chambord I kept thinking of our friends "Big and Rich" because she is a huge fan of Chambord in her drinks. Unfortunately, I did not see any Chambord while we were there.


We also thought of Cole with this chair. It seems like something that he would like.


Chambord is super unique because it has a double helix staircase.


Furniture and more staircases.


We stopped at a little cafe and observed a little market underneath of this super cool building. I have no idea the purpose of the building but I like it.


We enjoyed a peek a boo view of Cheverny. We were enjoying such a nice bike ride that we decided to just keep on riding and enjoy the day.


Day three: we drove to Chenonceau which was a mega chateau. Here are the gardens leading up to the chateau, complete with a garden maze.


Chenonceau is unique because it spans a river. Not only did it span a river but the part that spanned the river had 3 stories. During World War II the Nazis stood ready to destroy the chateau because the allies were using the bridge to sneak people out of occupied France. One side of the River Cher was occupied by the Nazis while the other was not. What a lucky circumstance for the allies. You can see the long hallway to the left of us in the picture.



Inside view of the gallery spanning the river. This Chateau had a requirement that dogs are held in arms or in a bag.



More gardens around the Chateau. I found these to be exceptional.


A little friend in the bushes.


The grounds also had a 16th century farm!


Afterward we went to Rigney Usse. This privately owned chateau was the inspiration for sleeping beauty. We ate lunch at the base of this one and got some pictures in front but didn't go inside. At some point you just get "chateaued out" and need to skip a few.


The Loire valley is also known for its troglodytes or cave homes. Some of these are extremely fancy and occupied only by the upper class but there are also areas without running water or electricity that are occupied by people living off the grid or as some websites put it, on the fringe of society. I don't know how fringe that is as there seems to be a mainstream push for this kind of environmentally friendly living.


Cool bridge along the way. It is a little blurry because we took it from the car window.


Proof that Quinn eats McDonald's shakes even though he poo poo's on everyone for eating their food. Apparently, ice cream doesn't count as food in Quinn's book. You can just barely make out his hand in this picture. He had a certain finger raised during his walk to the McDonald's so I could not post the evidence on this blog.


Day 4: the chateau Villandry is known for its gardens and rightfully so. They are incredible and have meaning behind the designs. The hearts represent tender love and in the center you can see shapes that are masks worn at balls. The triangles are passionate love and the triangles looks kind of like people dancing. One looks like butterfly wings, fans and love letters evoking the flightiness of feelings. The last one represents blades of daggers and swords used in duels caused by the rivalry of love and the flowers are red symbolizing blood shed for tragic love. Full disclosure: I copied this information from the booklet. I am not that creative.


These represent.....well never mind.


The Chateau with an edible garden in front. All of the plants are different colored lettuce.


They also had a maze and I learned something about mazes. They have a religious underpinning. The maze represents the path of life and the center is finding God. I never knew that. More garden photos.


Representing for our cousins Mark, Kelley, Kaylyn, and Morgan on this trip! We love you!


This car was parked outside in the parking lot.....so super cool


After Villandry we went to Chateau Azay Le rideau but it was completely covered due to renovation. Luckily we found an amazing French restaurant complete with multiple courses. Yummy! All for 18 euro a person. It was mostly a tourist town but just a block off the beaten path we were able to find this gem. Seems to me even the "regular" houses in this region look like amazing Chateaus.


All worn out on the 7 hour drive home. Yikes! That was a long one. I have to say that I REALLY enjoyed the Loire Region and highly recommend a trip there if you enjoy beautiful architecture, gardens, adorable French towns and quaint restaurants.


Posted by trackers 00:43 Archived in France Comments (0)

Hiking in the forest


This is a little out of order because we did this hike before we went back to the States for our trip to Seattle but I wanted to share these neat pics that Quinn took. We had a surprise sunny day so we took advantage of it and went for a little hike in Devil's Canyon which is on the border of Germany and Luxembourg.

We followed the Devil's eight path, depicted with this symbol.


It was a very leisurely hike that also gave the dogs time to run and sniff. We hiked along with our friends Megan and Ian. Here they are.


Near the trail head we passed a bee house. You can find these around Germany every so often. These houses are for wild solitary bees that live in these individual holes rather than making a nest.


The terrain in this area is very interesting with a lot of little canyons and craggy rock.


We liked how nature was taking over this sign.


Quinn captured a really cool spooky tree shot.


The sign called this a waterfall but I am going with rapids under a covered bridge.


I like this picture of Quinn because it embodies his German style hiking boots, Wisconsin hat, and Hawaiian gesture. The only thing missing is something from Japan.


Fun day in the woods.


Dog tired......obviously, I really loved dogs because, really, who does this?!


Posted by trackers 14:28 Archived in Luxembourg Comments (0)


Two weeks ago we lost a wonderful person in our family, my Dad's wife Cheryl. She was a very warm and caring person who made my dad super happy. She smiled at all of our jokes even when they were not funny and always had a way to smooth over any disagreement. Quinn and I attended their wedding in Tucson in 2010 and they also came out to visit us in Hawaii in 2012. Here are a few pictures that captured those moments.


It is of course very difficult to lose someone in your family and I am not so good with words to have some profound statement or reflection but I wanted to share with everyone what a special person Cheryl was and how much we all loved her. We miss her.

Posted by trackers 10:58 Comments (3)

(Entries 36 - 40 of 216) « Page .. 3 4 5 6 7 [8] 9 10 11 12 13 .. »