A side trip to Spain

Flying into Barcelona, Spain, in 2013, we picked up a hire care and had no problems at all driving down to Cambrils, on the Costa Daurada (Gold Coast) – despite not having any directions or detailed map on hand! A virtual tour of the area on Google Maps Street View before leaving home stood us in good stead and we easily found our timeshare accommodation: Somni de Cambrils.

Fairly basic, but clean and comfortable, in a peaceful location, we spent most evenings chilling out on the balcony with a Spanish beer or glass of rosé – a treed reserve directly in front of us and a tantalising glimpse of the sea at the end of the street.

We frequented the quiet local beach, with its gold-flecked waters, each little bay with it’s own characteristics – and the cafes, restaurants and beach-bars a bonus. The churros foodtruck also became a regular after-dinner stop!

Cambrils, Spain, 2013

For a glimpse of history, we checked out the Roman ruins (Vil·la Romana de la Llosa) just around the corner, and wandered up the pretty palm-lined beachfront promenade to the Cambrils marina to spot the Torre del Port.

Central Cambrils was much busier with a plethora of shops and places to eat – both along the marina, and also as you meander in a maze of alleyways and malls in the backstreets. Las Palmeras grill was great, and I can recommend stopping for tapas and sangria at Les Barques, followed by a walk out onto the pier at sunset.

For more shopping, the mixed street market begins at the tourist information booth – just walk up along the canal and you can’t miss it. Or visit the indoor fresh food market: Mercat Municipal de La Vila, in Carrer Pere III, (open most mornings) and while in the vicinity, check out the old town – follow the signs to “Nucli Antic” to find remnants of the original city walls.

Up the coast towards Tarragona is the bigger tourist hotspot of Salou, which is certainly worth a visit, though we did prefer our more tranquil location. (Except for the one morning we were woken up at 4am by the bang-crash-clatter of the rubbish truck – collecting from the orderly set of 5 recycling depositories on the street corner nearby.)

Salou, Spain, 2013

But the highlight of the trip for me was seeing the amazing Roman Aqueduct (Les Ferreres Aqueduct), 4 kms outside Tarragona (just near where the N240 crosses the AP7, with access points directly off either highway). It’s a magnificent structure. Many a photo was taken while walking under it, over it, then back around the pathways through the gardens.

Tarragona, Spain, 2013

Tarragona itself is fascinating, rich with history, and evidence of early Roman occupation. Don’t miss walking to the end of Rambla Nova (shame we missed the market) and along the Balcón del Mediterráneo for ocean views and the Roman ampitheatre. Break your walk with lunch at one of the many el fresco eateries at Plaça de la Font, a spacious plaza – paella perhaps? – before making your way to the Cathedral. Take your time, there’s a lot to see.

All too quickly, our week in Spain came to an end and, just like that, after one final drama of ending up at the wrong airport terminal (be careful – they are 5kms apart! And yes, Barcelona Airport is also known as El Prat) we were heading back to our beloved France.

For tourist information, check out: https://cambrils-turisme.com/?lang=en, https://www.visitsalou.eu/ and https://www.tarragonaturisme.cat/en

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Malta calling

In 2013 we returned to explore more of Malta than just the amazing harbour we had seen on our Mediterranean cruise, taking the opportunity to spend a few days in Rome on the way.

Rome, Italy

I love sitting down to a good meal with an even better view, and this was where we enjoyed pizza in full view of the Pantheon, Rome. (Link to original post) Saluti!

Malta is a small country, bursting with diversity (Link to original post) and these shots feature in my photobook:

Valletta, Malta

Long straight narrow roads cris-cross the Valletta peninsula, giving the illusion that you can see from one side of the island to the other.

Spinola Bay, Malta

Such a pretty spot to enjoy a leisurely meal on the terrace as the sun set. What a shame the meal wasn’t as good as the view!

Comino, Malta

On a short cruise from the island of Malta, across to Gozo, we stopped for a brief visit on the small and (almost) uninhabited island of Comino…

St Paul’s Island, Malta

And sailed back past tiny St Paul’s Island (aka Selmunett) – inhabited only by the statue of St Paul who was shipwrecked here.

Marsaxlokk, Malta

The typical colourful boats of Malta bob about in Marsaxlokk harbour. Fresh local fish for lunch is the obvious choice in this old and picturesque fishing village.

Mnajdra Temples, Malta

Already a little tired from our day’s explorations, it didn’t deter us from venturing down to see the ancient ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples.

Toulouse, France

And after our less-than-perfect transit through Toulouse on our way to Malta (details of that saga here), it was a much more enjoyable visit on our homeward journey.

And we celebrated our return, reveling in our most recently made memories. over fabulous French cuisine.

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Never a bridge too far

Over the years I have developed a growing fascination with bridges.

Spanning waterways or valleys, large or small, they are amazing engineering feats, and stand as a testament to our collective ingenuity.

When their location or construction is intrinsically beautiful – well, that’s just a photo opportunity waiting to happen, and these few made it into a bridge-themed spread in my recently compiled photobook:

Granite Island Causeway

Victor Harbor, South Australia, 2009

Pont Saint Michel and Pont-Neuf

Toulouse, France, 2012

Ponte Vecchio

Florence, Italy, 2013

So now, in the midst of planning our trip to the UK and France (assuming that the current pandemic crisis will abate in time), I’m hoping to have the opportunity to see yet more amazing bridges.

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Stepping into Spain to cruise the Mediterranean

Our first ever foray into Spain was in 2012 to spend a week at a beach-side resort in Peniscola…

before a brief exploration of Barcelona…

from where we cast off on our Mediterranean cruise: https://aussiesinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/full-speed-ahead/

Sailing in the Tyrrhenian Sea…

Stromboli, Italy

…we were astounded that 300 people actually live on this active volcano.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end…

Original post: https://aussiesinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/getting-to-know-genoa-before-fond-farewells/

But the memories live on!

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Detouring west on our way to Spain

St Emilion

On a zig-zagging road trip from Argenton-sur-Creuse in 2012, we first headed south-west to Bordeaux via St Emilion, where the views from the top of the bell tower were unforgettably gorgeous!

We took a cellar tour to see a portion of the incredible 300km of galleries that exist under St Emilion from where they originally mined the limestone for the town’s buildings. Finished off the day with tastings of their lovely bubbly: Cremant de Bordeaux. Le Cordeliers’ soft white and dry rosé were my favourites, and reasonably priced too, for such quality.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an undeniably beautiful city. There is so much to see in the city centre. Just across the road from the Place de la Bourse photographed above, is the Garonne river with a garden-lined boardwalk, where you will see people of all ages playing in the huge “Mirroir d’eau.”

Staying with friends in the suburbs of Bordeaux, we all took a day trip back east to Sarlat-la-Canéda. And through my less-than-perfect navigation, we stumbled upon the lovely hillside town of Terrasson, catching the tail-end of a market, and stopping for a gourmet picnic in the lush green public gardens there.

Terrasson

We had a great afternoon, exploring the meandering cobblestoned streets of medieval  Sarlat, lined with a jumble of yellow sandstone houses of all shapes and sizes. (Sensible shoes are a must, with some very steep alleyways to climb and, more dangerously, to descend.)

Sarlat-la-Canéda

Toulouse

En route from Bordeaux to Spain, we visited Carcassonne. In truth we by-passed Toulouse this time – the featured photo was actually taken in 2011… I am discovering a few errors in my photobook as I walk you through it.

The walled city of Carcassonne, which dominates the town, dates back to the 13th century and was restored about 50 years ago. I’m glad we paid the entry fee to go into the castle itself – you get the the best views from there. Cassoulet for lunch is almost obligatory – a white beans and meats specialty of the region. Delicious, but very filling… we walked it off!

Carcassonne

After a very big day, we eventually arrived at Gruissan for our final night in France, where we took a twilight walk all around the marina and stopped at a waterside cocktail bar before calling it a night.

Gruissan

Au revoir France. Next stop: Spain.

For more photos of this trip, check out my previous posts:

https://aussiesinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/stepping-up-the-pace-21/

https://aussiesinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/windows/

https://aussiesinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/new-friends/

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There’s more to France than Paris

Just like the majority of people visiting France, we generally arrive in Paris –

Paris

but there is so much more to see than just the charming capital, and over the last 10 years we have explored different areas of this beautiful country, and have never, ever, been disappointed.

In 2011, we drove from our home in central France down south to Hyères to spend a relaxing week by the sea; and a number of photos from this road trip made it into my photobook…

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We took day trips from Hyères, exploring the local area…

Fenouillet

Chemin du Fenouillet, Hyères

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or further along the Cote d’Azure…

Day trip Le Lavandou and St Tropez post

More about our day in Marseille

Then made our way along the Mediterranean coastline,

and across the border into Italy.

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Before zig-zagging our way through the French Alps.

French Alps

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And after 10 days, clocking up over 2,000 kms, we safely arriving back home in Argenton-sur-Creuse.

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Finishing on a high

From New York to Niagara; from Canada to California; from desert to tropical island… we finished off our year-long round-the-world gap-year in 2010 with a month in North America, visiting Canada and 3 states of the USA.

New York,

New York State,

USA

We were in New York during the Northern Hemisphere heatwave of summer 2010 as the heat radiated off the concrete and skyscrapers, making Times Square feel like daytime at midnight. A ferry out to Liberty Island offered some relief from the stifling city. One balmy night was spent Top of the Rock with fabulous views of the city lights and the Empire State Building. We abandoned the idea of walking the 4 km through Central Park, catching the subway to Harlem instead, to enjoy the soul food and warm hospitality at Sylvia’s restaurant.

Niagara Falls,

Ontario,

Canada

My dream was fulfilled with a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls. Truly magnificent, it certainly lived up to all the hype. Prepare to get wet, despite the beautiful blue poncho!

Niagara-on-the-Lake,

Ontario,

Canada

If you get the chance, don’t miss the adorable town of Niagara-on-the-Lake – just 25 minutes drive from the Falls… it’s as beautiful as the streets in Disneyland, and really seems too good to be true. Picture-perfect.

(Niagara was just one day of our week in Canada – which I think deserves it’s own post… one of these days!)

Joshua Tree National Park,

California,

USA

We had never heard of Joshua Tree National Park before we stayed in nearby Palm Desert, but continually see it’s almost alien landscape (where the trees of Dr Seuss books grow) as the backdrop in many movies.

Joshua Tree National Park

La Quinta,

California,

USA

Still based in Palm Desert, we visited pretty Old Town La Quinta. With streets deserted in the searing heat, it had the air of a ghost town. Taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, at 8,500 ft elevation, we enjoyed a 20 degree drop in temperature and spectacular views from the forests of Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Honolulu,

Oahu,

Hawaii

Another dream came true when we arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, with this glorious view from our hotel window. Just a stopover on our way to Maui, we still managed to find our way to the unassuming Helena’s for superb ribs.

Kahana Beach,

Maui,

Hawaii

After the tourist hub-bub of Honolulu, the peace and quiet of Kahana Beach on the island of Maui was just delightful. In my first attempt at snorkeling, we even got to swim with the turtles (somewhat ungracefully, fumbling with my mask!) Much fun was had in the waves at the bigger and busier Kaanapali Beach. And I must applaud Cool Cat Cafe in Lahaina for it’s delicious burgers!

A fantastic finale to our unforgettable year overseas.

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Around Argenton

As I continue walking you through my recently compiled photobook, here are a few shots taken not far from our house in central France…

Argenton

2011

Within our town of Argenton-sur-Creuse there are so many interesting buildings to see: historical, like the church in the background; or quirky, like the overhanging house in the foreground; or intriguing, like the ramshackle semi-timbered old bar in the centre, with the boot-shaped sign (currently under restoration).

Gargilesse

2011

Less than 20km away lies Gargilesse-Dampierre, rated as one of the prettiest villages in France, and home to author George Sand, who fell in love with the place – and who wouldn’t?

Valençay

2010

The beautiful Château de Valençay, a blend of Renaissance and Classical architecture, with manicured gardens, is less than an hour’s drive from Argenton, and well worth a visit.

Les 3 Lacs?

2010

When we stopped for a riverside picnic this day, the sign said “Pays des 3 Lacs en Creuse” but Google maps now tells me that this village is really: La Celle-Dunoise.

Chenonceaux

2010

At the time of our visit, Château de Chenonceau, which straddles the Cher River in the Loire Valley, was under major external restoration – but there was no lack of photo opportunities with the gorgeous gardens bursting with colour in the full bloom of spring. Just a 1.5 hr drive from us we must make a return visit to appreciate the fully-restored facade.

I guess my interests in architecture and gardens are evident!

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One week in Greece

As a side trip from France in 2009 (milking our one-year around-the-world airfare for every kilometre!) we flew across to Greece, the land of my husband’s heritage, hoping to find evidence of his father’s birth there (and therefore his right to an EU passport). Alas, nothing was found on the family history front, but Greece’s ancient history was evident everywhere!

Staying near Marathon Beach, we drove into Athens on the Sunday when the roads were said to be quiet – although we didn’t find it so! And, with no GPS, made various wrong turns, misinterpreting road signs (despite being in English… it was the arrows we couldn’t understand!) eventually arriving in the quaint old Plaka district within easy access of all the main ancient sites. 

Wandering around the rambling narrow streets, at the first sign of rain, we took refuge at one of the many el fresco restaurants for lunch and enjoyed mouth-watering lamb as the light rain developed into a full-blown thunderstorm. (We still wish we’d had a video camera running to capture other patrons getting drenched when a table umbrella collapsed under the immense volume of rain!)

Athens

The deluge abated and we headed off to explore the ancient ruins of Athens including the unbelievably tall columns of what’s left of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, and up to the Acropolis (Akropolis) to see the Parthenon – another enormous temple – with fantastic views in all directions.

Corinth

80 km west of Athens lies the seaside town of Corinth (Korinthos) where we strolled around the foreshore and surrounding streets, enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.

On our way to Ancient Corinth, we turned off to check out Acrocorinth (Akrokorinthos) – the ruins of a Byzantine castle – unfortunately arriving right on 3 pm closing time… but that didn’t stop us from enjoying yet more spectacular views. (In the photo below you can just see the castle atop the mountain in the distance.)

Ancient Corinth

At the ruins of Ancient Corinth we took our time soaking up the sense of history and imagining what life might have been like way back then. We especially appreciated the peace and quiet, allowing us to reflect – after experiencing the throng of tourists in Athens.

During our week in Greece we even ventured 500 km north to Thessaloniki – a very pretty port-side city with a great vibe. Checking into a convenient little hotel (Hotel Luxembourg) to stay the night, we learned that the next day, 28th October, was Ochi Day – the National Anniversary of Greek Independence.

The weather was superb and we enjoyed stumbling upon random archaeological sites within the city area. Walking the length of the waterfront to see the White Tower, we found ourselves among a crowd of spectators at the celebratory parade, where many people were dressed in traditional Greek costumes. Later in the day, the roar of jet flyovers surprised us, and the festivities continued late into the night. 

Ochi Day in Thessaloniki was certainly a highlight of our trip to Greece. But it’s often is the unexpected experiences that are particularly enjoyable and memorable, don’t you think?

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Ahhhh Argenton

There’s a little place in the centre of France, straddled across the River Creuse, under the watchful eye of the Bonne Dame, called Argenton-sur-Creuse.

The old mill

2009

The old bridge

2009

Riverside houses

2009

La Bonne Dame

2010

Anyone familiar with this blog will also be familiar with this town, and the story of how we fell in love with an old stone townhouse, with its pretty ironwork balcony, and semi-spiral wooden staircase, which we were lucky enough to find on the internet at a bargain price (but in great need of TLC) and spent the better part of a year there renovating it in 2009-2010 (starting out with precious little renovation know-how and even less French language skills!)

10 years down the track Argenton still beckons us, exuding just as much charm as ever, with its perfect balance between off-the-beaten-track location and yet having everything you could possibly need – either within the town itself of about 5,000 residents, or in the nearby city of Chateauroux (just 20 minutes away).

For a few interesting maps and stats of Argenton-sur-Creuse, check out: http://www.map-france.com/Argenton-sur-Creuse-36200/

But you really have to visit in person to appreciate this little gem, rich in Roman and medieval history, situated a mere 100kms west of the (hotly disputed) geographical centre of France.

It certainly has everything we need and we’re always planning our next sojourn.

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