A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

A real life castle with a real life family living inside

rain 10 °C

A new castle partially built, in an old castle partially destroyed

Foodie moment

Sorry, no worthy foody moments! Although the BBQ chicken rolls we made for dinner last night whilst huddled in our camper watching Game of Thrones out of the rain, were pretty yummy!

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Cultural moment

The majority of the French drive Peugeot and Citroen cars...Funny fact.... In French, Citroen means 'lemon'... therefore, they all drive lemons...tee hee hee!

Wow moment

Whilst in the Loire Valley, you have to visit a chateau. As we didn't want to drive too far out of our way (and it was POURING all day) we decided to drive to one near where we camping, taking our chances on what we were heading to. We went to Chateau de Brissac, and it was stunning! The family that owns it still lives there, but areas are set up really well for the public. We visited the stables, the mausoleum, a 300m underground tunnel the owner built in the 18th century to deal with the river overflow and the Grande kitchen. Then we took a tour (in French, but with an English brochure) to see some of the inside of the house; the Grande salon, Bedroom, Ballroom and Opera theatre. The tour finished with wine tasting of the estate wines (as all good tours should!) and we may have purchased a couple of bottles. As it was wet, we didn't explore outside too much, but the gardens were beautiful and it was definitely worth a visit!

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What we learnt today

The chateau we visited today, Chateau Brissac, has an interesting story leading to how it looks today. In 1601, the owner (Charles II de Cossé) had a grand plan to transform it into a more "modern" Chateau. He started building behind the half ruined walls of the existing castle, with the intention of removing the towers at a later date. However, the construction took quite a long time, and he died before it was completely finished, including the destruction of the towers. Chateau Brissac was then passed onto his son, who immediately stopped the construction and demolition process. The new chateau within the remnants of the old castle remained, and is the current look today. The evidence of this is clear when you look at the front of the castle, between the edge of towers and the front of the Chateau, there is a small gap and they don't join as the original towers were never meant to remain.

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Posted by travellinglise 11:43 Archived in France Tagged chateau_brissac angers Comments (1)

Bordeaux, nothing to w(h)ine about!

semi-overcast 16 °C

"You have only so many bottles in your life, never drink a bad one" - Len Evans

Foodie moment

The salads, baguettes, free tapas with drinks (dips and toast) and home cooked pasta meals we have had since being in Bordeaux have all been tasty but probably don't qualify as a foody moments!

A couple if honourable mentions though... Croque Madame - Toasted cheese and ham sandwich (cheese inside and on top) with a fried egg - delicious snack

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The thunderstorm which hit while Mark was making us dinner out the door of 'Na'vi'. Complete with rain, hail, lightning and thunder! Needless to say we did call it quits and settle for lukewarm pasta sauce!

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Cultural moment

The French take their wine VERY seriously. It is something they all seem to know a bit about, and they drink a lot of it! Most will have wine at lunch, aperitif and dinner. They know what wine should be drunk with what foods to get the best taste. Having said that, they don't have the culture we seem to have in Australia - drink to get drunk - instead it just seems like a normal part of the meal that they enjoy but don't get too carried away with.

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To prove how seriously they take their wine, we learnt the process of wine making in France today on our tour. For a wine to be labelled a Bordeaux wine, it needs to follow the strict guidelines of France, Bordeaux and its Appellation (region). These included rules such as needing to be a blend, no watering of the vines and controlled use of preservatives. After the wine is made, it has to be sent away to have a scientific analysis of it made, to ensure these rules were followed. Finally before being labelled as Bordeaux it would need to be part of a blind tasting to ensure it tasted good enough to bear the name!

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Wow moment

The city of Bordeaux was another architectural beautiful city. The buildings were all made out of giant limestone blocks with black tiling on the roofs, and the way they all looked the same down the street looked great. It had a great youthful vibe, with lots of universities and young families, and had a fun and relaxed feel to it.

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Within the town was the Cathedrale Saint-Andre church, an amazing massive Gothic structure. The pictures speak for themselves

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What we learnt today

In France, the area/land that you have your vineyard on is the main contributor to how much your wine will be worth. French winemakers put all the importance in the soil, sunlight, drainage and humidity to the quality of the finished wine, the winemakers themselves seem to be somewhat irrelevant. They can choose the blends and create the best tasting wines they can, but they will never be considered in the top quality level unless their vineyard is the particular place that is recognised as 'Grande Cru'. Seems kind of unfair! You could never just decide to try your hand at wine making, as no matter how good your wine was, unless it is in the appropriate areas it will never be worth much.

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Posted by travellinglise 11:54 Archived in France Comments (1)

Winter has come - Protect the castle!

@ Carcassonne

rain 12 °C

Legend has it that Princess Carcas, seeing Charlemagne lift the siege on her town, ordered the bells to be rung. People then cried "Carcas sonne" [Carcas rings] and this is how the town got its name.

Foodie moment

After a few hours of walking around a windy,cold castle, we hunted for something to warm us up... this hit the spot! 'Vin Chaud' - hot wine (Some will know it as Mulled Wine) tasted like Sangria but gives you the warm fuzzies as it goes down! :)

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Cassolette is the speciality of the area and every restaurant in the town served it. We chose a restaurant with a VERY cheap set menu - 3 courses for 15 Euros, with the cassolette one of the main course options. In hindsight, perhaps the cheapness of the menu meant we weren't getting the best quality product but oh well, at least we tried it! Entree - French Onion Soup, Main - Pork Cassolette cooked in goose fat, Desert - Crepe (no picture included as unfortunately they microwaved it so we were a little disenchanted with the dish!!)

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Cultural moment

Pizza, pizza everywhere - are we in Italy? The French have amazing traditional foods but they LOVE pizza! Majority of restaurants sell it, there is always an Italian restaurant nearby and the queues are always the longest outside them! They also have an obsession for Sushi, with 'Japonais' restaurants everywhere! Surprisingly it seems to be the affordable option too!!

Wow moment

If you're a fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, or a computer nerd like myself (Mark) and have played Skyrim, you will get a sense of deja vu/nostalgia upon approaching, and then exploring the amazing walled city and chateau of Carcassonne. As we approached by car, we got a few glimpses of the surrounding wall and its turrets. Excited by the prospect of living a real life video game, I was eager to explore. It was a 15 minute walk from our camp site. For the first few minutes I was saying to Lise "Where is it?" and then suddenly, on the hillside, there it was. How could you miss it, absolutely stunning. With the surrounding forest and lower village, we actually felt like we had stepped back a few 100 years. The fact that there was really nobody around as we walked up the narrow pebble back-path and into the first section of the wall made it even more surreal. You can literally explore the walls and towers of the outer section a freely as you like. We didn't see a single person until we passed well into the city itself. The inside of the city is just as medieval as the exterior. Not until you actually walk by the shops, and notice the tourist goods like iphone covers etc, are you knocked back into reality. We explored the inner Chateau (a fortress within a fortress) of the city and learnt a lot of interesting history about the place. We had a nice dinner and drinks there, and explored a little more. We actually found the front entrance last, with moat and permanent bridge (no longer a draw bridge), but I think coming in the back way was a much more realistic and exciting experience, having nobody around and falling into the belief that we actually were exploring the castle on our own.

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What we learnt today

Surprise surprise, today's lesson in 'What we learnt' is about the Carcassonne medieval walled city. Originally, it was owned in the 12th century by one of the most powerful families in the south of France, the Trencavel family. However, in 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a siege of the castle as the Trencavel family were allowing discussion of Christianity. During the siege, the villages were allowed to leave with their lives, but the king died a lonely death within the castle. It was then gifted to the King of France's son and he developed it into an impenetrable fortress. Nobody dared to attack the castle as it was a certain loss. Its defences were extended to a point where attacking it was pointless. With the change of borders, the city stopped being an important defence against the Spanish, and was left to fall into ruin. In the 19th century, the plans for its restoration from ruins were drawn by Mr Viollet-le-Duc, who was the architect who designed the Notre Dame in Paris. It took 50 years to complete the restoration, a milestone that the architect sadly never saw.

Posted by travellinglise 13:15 Archived in France Comments (1)

Don't miss your turn off or you'll end up in Italy!

sunny 26 °C

Does 'Mediterranean Blue' refer to the colour of the sky or the water? They are both stunning

Foodie moment

Today we got to enjoy another 'Menu de Jour' (due to a super cheap day yesterday). For our entree we had Tartare de Saumon and Salade Nicois (Again!!) and 2 traditional dishes to Nice for our mains; Daube Nicois (Slow cooked beef stew with carrots, onions, red wine, tomato, herbs - served with pasta) and Filets de Rouget with Ratatouille (Fish fillets with eggplant, zucchini, capsicum in a tomato sauce). Of course we had the house red with it (4.50 Euros for 50cl!) and it was a lovely meal! Sorry there is no photo of the main as we dug straight in and completely forgot to take one till our plates were clean!

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Mark learnt the French word 'Glaces' very early on - it means ice cream. Whilst my favourite ice cream shop was in Annecy (lemon tart flavour!!!), Mark found his today. He had Choc Orange and Choc Chilli and i had Choc Orange and Bounty. The Bounty flavour was exactly like the chocolate bar, and Mark enjoyed the Choc Orange very much! The array of flavours was amazing, and we were intrigued (yet not tempted enough) by the savoury flavours such as tomato and basil, and black and green olive.

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Cultural moment

Many European drivers seem to have a dubious reputation as drivers - road rules seem to be less rules and more gentle suggestions. We've found that French drivers are not necessarily bad drivers but more selfish! Double parking is a regular occurance, even if that blocks off the whole lane of traffic. They will happily cut you off on a roundabout it they have found out they are in the wrong lane for the direction they want to travel in. They will pull out right in front of you on the motorway to pass a slow truck rather than wait for you to pass to pull out; even if you are travelling much faster than them and they can't match your speed. A couple of hair pulling moments, and maybe a couple of bad words have been uttered whilst Mark has been driving.

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Wow moment

The roads between Nice and Monaco are famous for Grace Kelly's scenes in a Hitchcock film, as well as her death in a car accident later. They also have spectacular views around every turn, so much so that you need to remember to keep your eyes on the hairpin turns whilst uttering 'Wow!' These roads are called the Grande and Moyen Corniche (Big and Medium Ocean road). The Grande Corniche runs at the top of the cliffs, whilst the Moyen is slightly lower down. The lookouts are spectacular (for a lack of a better word!), and whilst on the Grande Corniche you can go to the National Park which takes you even higher on the peaks, looking down over the glitz and glamour of the Cote d'azur from a dizzying height! One of the most amazing sights was the Alps... As you are looking over a beach sparkling in the baking sun, in the distance tower the Alps with snow capped tops - quite a surreal image!

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What we learnt today

Nice roads are ridiculous!!! That's the city, not the adjective! They are unforgiving to visitors, one missed turn has you heading 9km across the city with no escape. The roads sometimes have two 2 way streets next to each other, giving you the terrifying feeling of being on the wrong side of the road (we normally have this feeling anyway, but this situation is doubly confusing!). We even spent some time (legally) driving on the left! Needless to say, Mark will be happy once we drive our little 'Navi' out of the streets, avenues and motorways of Nice to more sensible roads!!

Posted by travellinglise 11:35 Archived in France Comments (1)

Cannes - Lifestyles of the Rich, Famous and Tanned!

sunny 26 °C

"So, where's the Cannes Film Festival being held this year?" - Christina Aguilera

Foodie moment

I had promised myself, as soon as I got to the coast, I was going to get myself some Moules et Frites (Mussels and Fries). First day in Cannes, and they were on my radar. Mark noticed them in a great restaurant that had a live band playing (more on them later). I chose Moules Mariniere, and the huge pile in front of me didn't disappoint! Biggest news of the night, Mark tried mussels for the first time and enjoyed them!

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One of the traditional dishes of Nice is the Salad Nicois. We've been trying to eat cheap for either lunch or dinner each day (we have breckie at the van) and often the kiosks are the best for this. As i was getting a bit sick of burgers, pizza and baguettes, I looked closer at the menu and found they served salad as well. The size and quality was amazing, and needless to say we have had a few more of them since! Plus Mark has also realised that he quite likes tuna!

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Cultural moment

As I mentioned earlier, the restaurant we chose for my Moules and Frites had a live band playing. They were a fun Latin style band with maracas, bongo drums, keyboard and vocals. It was somewhat background music for much of the night as most people enjoyed their dinners, but at around 9.30pm suddenly the vibe changed. The music got louder and the staff handed out Mexican hats, suddenly everyone was dancing and singing - Saturday night had got under way! It was interesting to see that what looked like a normal restaurant earlier became their bar/nightclub later on. The French see their meals as part of their Saturday night entertainment and the fun goes from there....

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Mark has been very excited to see that Rollerblading is still cool (making a revival?) in France. Down on the coast there are people cruising down the board walk, looking very nineties and baywatchesque (if you ask me), but I Mark is dying to try some moves.

Wow moment

We weren't sure what to expect with Cannes, as we knew very little about it but it was a really pretty place. The marina had its fairshare of yacht eye candy to check out, and the smell of money was in the air, but it was also very relaxed, down to earth and affordable, if you wanted. We managed to unintentionally rock up 4 days before the International Film Festival began, which was lucky as we got to see the preparations going ahead, but still managed to get in to accommodation and the city. Big tip, a lot of money has gone into 'The Gatsby' to do well at the festival- I'm guessing Leo and Tobey would have been hidden somewhere in the countless hotels that line the beach. A walk up to the Chateau on the hill gave us breathtaking views of it all, framed by the beautiful blue sky and ocean we have now begun to expect.

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What we learnt today

The majority of beaches in Cannes are private, owned by hotels and beaches, where you must be a customer to use them. We went to find the public beach 'near' our camp-site at La Bocca. Needless to say it was incredibly hard to get to as the giant cross country train lines run parallel to its, separating it from the town. To get past them, you must find an underpass and after some poor directions and an hour of walking, we finally made it there! Once there we realised the public beaches weren't the best beaches either, with a tiny strip of sand, and water which went from ankle deep to head height in one step. We were just happy to finally make it there, have a (warm) beer and soak up the afternoon sun!

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Posted by travellinglise 10:37 Archived in France Comments (1)

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