A Travellerspoint blog

A sailors life for me - Honfleur

overcast 12 °C

La première étape de notre voyage - c'est tout! (Stage one of our trip - done!)

Foodie moment

Huitres (Oysters) are a favourite of mine (Mark hates them), so i was desperate to have some whilst on the coast of France. The cheapest way to get them was from a waterside vendor, but as i was met with a snort when i asked if the fisherman spoke English, it was a bit more challenging! Needless to say, I managed to order 6 fresh oysters and convince the man to shuck them for me, provide a container and one of the lemons he used in his display all for 6 Euro! Not sure how happy he was, but I was very pleased with myself!

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Last night in France we splashed out on a 3 course set menu. We started with a smoked salmon roulard, then Mark had confit Canard (duck) with potatoes and I had Bouillabaisse Normandie (Fish tagine). Desert was chocolate mousse and cheese. Amazing food, and Mark is sold on duck forever!!!

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Cultural moment

Something we have found throughout our travels is how good the French (particularly those who work in tourist areas) speak English. This is particularly true the further north west (closer to the UK) you travel. Although sometimes they are not forthright in letting you know how well they speak, once they start, their language skills are not simple essentials, they can talk at a reasonably complex level. I'm not sure if this is because they have contact with so many English speakers, or due to tv and movies, or the quality of French schools but it certainly puts our language skills in Australia to shame!!

Wow moment

What a cute little fishing village Honfleur is! I imagine how nice it would be in the sunshine, with the boats, parks, beach and waterside cafes. Its was still nice even in the rain with the cobbled streets, colourful bunting strung across the streets and great food!

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What we learnt today

Time moves differently in Europe - particularly in the north. The sun comes up at 6am and will not go down until well after 9.30pm. This leads to very long days! This is great when you sit down at 5 in the evening and know you can enjoy sitting in the sun for another 4 hours, but not so great when its cold and wet and the day seems to go forever, so you have an early night but its still light outside!! Mark said he felt like a kid who was sent to bed early and could still hear the children playing outside, like he's missing out on something!!

Posted by travellinglise 08:49 Archived in France Tagged honfleur oysters Comments (0)

Wonder of the West - Mont Saint Michel

overcast 8 °C

"Build here and build high" - Archangel Michael

Foodie moment

Tonight we had a meal of Normandy specialities; apples, cream and butter. Mark tried some locally made Apple Cider, it was not like ciders we buy back in Australia, more like a beer, but delicious! For our meal, Mark had Steak with crispy roast potatoes and garlic butter sauce, and I had 'Moules à la Normande', which was mussels with cream, apple cider, mushrooms, butter and small chunks of apple and onion. An AMAZING meal!

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Cultural moment

Unbeknownst to us, the 19th and 20th of May are Whit Sunday and Monday in France. This is a religious public holiday. We found out about this holiday when we 'attempted' to drop in at the walled city of St Malo on Monday, on our way to Mont Saint Michael. The volume of people visiting the walled city (and probably the church within) was unbelievable, thousands!! People were parking everywhere, on median strips and for kilometres down the streets. Not surprisingly we gave up on the visit and escaped off to the camp-site! Lesson learnt! Do not try to go to tourist attractions on public holidays!

Wow moment

We braved the elements to head out to one of France's most visually stunning tourist attractions, Mont Saint Michel. The key tourist attraction here is the Abbey. It was built by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches when he saw a vision of Archangel Michel (the head of heavenly militia) who told him to 'build here, and build high'. It was a beautiful abbey, particularly the abbey church and cloisters. The abbey church was made even more spectacular by the impromptu performance by a vacationing choir group! The architecture of the rest of the abbey was amazing with a focus on flowing lines and symmetry.

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What we learnt today

Mont Saint Michel is set on an island, that is only an island at high tide. The tidal waters around St Michel recede over 18 kilometres at low tide, revealing the mud flats that pilgrims for centuries have walked across bare feet. You can access the island via the causeway, which floods at high tide, or by the mud flats at low tide, which can be dangerous as the tide comes in. The tides can reach a height difference of 14 meters and have been described by Victor Hugo as "à la vitesse d'un cheval au galop" or "as swiftly as a galloping horse". A new bridge is in development that will provide all day access and makes use of a dam, that with the removal of the old causeway will be beneficial for the environment and return St Michel to being a proper island.

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Posted by travellinglise 07:38 Archived in France Tagged beaches church abbey mont_saint_michel Comments (1)

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)

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