On top of the world

Owning a week of timeshare is one way we keep our travel costs down and we were thrilled to secure a week at Whiski Jack, Whistler, Canada, in April.

We took a coach transfer from Vancouver up to Whistler where we had to check in at their office in Creekside, which was no problem when they organised a taxi at their expense to take us (plus our luggage and a few groceries) straight to our mountain-side unit.

Whiski Jack Resorts checkin

We loved the wooded view from the balcony of our cozy unit, with a glimpse of the ski run in the distance.

View from our unit

It was fun to take the walking trail back down to Creekside…

Trail to Creekside ski lift

although we weren’t entirely sure if we went the right way, we eventually found our way across a bridge and down by the ski slope. We were surprised at how much snow there still was at what we thought would be the end of the season.

Creekside ski run

Creekside was rather sleepy (and no sightseers allowed on that ski lift) but there were shops and eateries, handy to have close by, and we enjoyed a fabulous meal at Dusty’s.

Creekside

It was just a short ride on the Number 1 bus to the pretty Whistler Village – the main hub of activity – especially with the World Ski and Snowboard festival on, and lots of special events happening daily. (We bought a batch of bus tickets at the Tourist information centre for a small saving and for the convenience of not having to have the exact fare each ride.)

Whistler Village

There’s a funny story as to why we wanted to be in Whistler at that particular time of year… Tony’s daughter was working in Whistler (like many Aussies – 75% of the casual workforce we heard!), and as she was turning 21 it seemed like a good idea to centre our trip around her special day… except that, by the time we booked our tickets, she had flown the coop back to warmer climates!

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Nevermind, we weren’t complaining – we probably would never have made the trip to Whistler otherwise, and we are so glad we did!

The absolute highlight of the trip was our sightseeing gondola ride up Whistler mountain…

Gondola ride up Whistler Mountain

and across to Blackcomb on the Peak-to-Peak.

Peak to Peak from Whstler to Blackcomb

Truly spectacular views.

On top of the world

It took our breath away.

On Blackcomb

We enjoyed some time on each peak, on this glorious day, stopping for some sustenance at the lodge, before taking the return journey, still in awe of the views.

Peak to Peak

Spectacular!

Whistler mountain views

We really did feel on top of the world.

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Visiting Vancouver

We might be seasoned travelers but perhaps that makes us too relaxed at times, and the night before flying to Canada, attempting to check-in on-line, we discovered that we needed visas! Oops. Oh well, easily fixed. What would we do without the internet?

The Air New Zealand flights from Melbourne to Vancouver (via Auckland) passed pleasantly with meals, movies, and a perhaps little too much New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (my favourite drop).

After 17 hours of flying did our luggage feel this heavy?

Heavy luggage Vancouver Airport

We bought a Compass day pass at Vancouver airport train station, giving us unlimited travel on the Skytrain (airport to city), the ferry between Waterfront and Lonsdale, as well as the local buses. Good value.

Ferry ride Vancouver

It was just a short walk for us from the Lonsdale ferry terminal to the Pinnacle Pier Hotel in North Vancouver.

Lonsdale Quay

A lovely place to stay, and not far from the Lonsdale Quay Market.

Pinnacle Pier Hotel

Undeterred by the lateness of the hour, nor by the Melbournesque weather (overcast and drizzly) we headed back across on the ferry into Vancouver for a little evening exploration.

Vancouver skyline

In honour of this 3-continent round-the-world trip, taking in Canada, France and Japan, we sought out the “Japadog” street vendor. The Kurobuta Terimayo was fresh and light, but when all’s said and done, it’s just a hotdog with Japanese mayo and seaweed.

Japadog

From there we headed into the Gastown historic area and stumbled upon the fascinating Steam Clock.

Steam clock

I loved the decorative street lamps of Gastown…

Time is precious Gastown

but didn’t appreciate the brazen beggars who weren’t satisfied with just a dollar or two.

Gastown

There were plenty of eateries to choose from in this popular district. The Old Spaghetti Factory looked interesting, and we enjoyed the decor and ambience as we sat at the bar waiting for a table. The cocktails were well priced (but remember to allow for taxes and tips) and took the edge off our appetites, so we ditched the idea of a late-night dinner in favour of a good night’s sleep.

The Old Spaghetti Factory

After an early workout in the well-equipped gym, we enjoyed our breakfast downstairs. Beware: Pacific Northwest smoked salmon has the texture of smoked trout but those potatoes had a delicious kick!

Eggs benedict

We took the local bus from our hotel for an unguided tour through North Vancouver, over Lion’s Gate Bridge (one of the longest bridges in Canada) and through the secretive woods of Stanley Park before alighting at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, where we would catch our coach transfer up to Whistler later that day. The bus ride took longer than anticipated and squashed Tony’s dreams of shopping at the market on Granville Island for supplies for the week, particularly when we were not able to leave our luggage at the Hyatt unattended. Something we really should have checked!

Sandwiched between our very enjoyable week up at Whistler and our fabulous train trip across to Toronto (more on all that later!) we scored a second half-day sightseeing in Vancouver. This time, leaving our luggage at Pacific Central Station, we hopped on a bus which conveniently took us directly to Stanley Park: my Number 1 “must do in Vancouver.”

We spent an hour or two there, walking around the marina, amongst pretty cherry blossoms in the otherwise dormant gardens…

Stanley Park

through quiet wooded areas…

Stanley Park

and down to the Seawall.

Burrard Inlet from Stanley Park

You could spend days there and not see it all!

Bussing it back downtown, we had dinner at SteamWorks Brewing Co (just by Waterfront station) and couldn’t fault the atmosphere, view, service, and food. Starting with a house-brewed beer, I ordered Fish Tacos for a light option, but it was both generous and delicious: two flavor-packed tortillas plus yam (sweet potato) fries – and I just had to eat it all!

Steamworks

It was a great way to finish off our two-part visit to Vancouver. I’m sure we’ll be back.

 

 

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Completing the loop

Last year, we drove from our house in central France, up to Belgium and across to Germany before embarking on our “big day” travelling homeward-bound across 3 countries (I just love that about Europe!) to complete our 3000km “loop.”

We left Stadtkyll, Germany, and arrived in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, just an hour later – and soon stumbled upon a chocolate shop (Chocolate House – Nathalie Benn) in a perfect location, directly opposite the Grand Ducal Palace.

We sat back, watching the guard marching up and back with endless precision, while we languidly stirred our “Hotchocspoon” into the hot milk, topping it with homemade marshmallow and chantilly cream, alongside an equally decadent chocolate cake.

Suitably refreshed, we made our way to the Chemin de la Corniche and tried to capture the magnificence of what has been called “the most beautiful balcony of Europe.”

For a small fee, we explored some of the 10 miles of remaining defence tunnels carved into the rocky cliffs, called the Casements du Bock. Dating back as far back as 1644, they were more recently used as shelters during World War II. I wonder how many people have traipsed these hand-carved tunnels?

We left Luxembourg and were shortly back in our beloved France, arriving in Nancy for a late lunch – somehow surprised that it’s such a big city. We were blown away by Place Stanislas – the recently restored 18th century plaza in front of the imposing town hall.

Amazing gilted iron gates and a huge archway entrance (“Arc Héré”) with fascinating buildings and enticing cafes on every side.

Quiche Lorraine anyone?

Unfortunately the perfect weather waned as we neared Dijon and we drove straight into a thunderstorm.

It was pelting down by the time we arrived at Hotel Le Jarquemart, located in the historic area of Dijon.

Having accidentally given our room to someone else with a similar name, they upgraded us to a larger room and I was proud of myself for sorting that out entirely in French – appreciating being back in a country where I have at least a partial understanding of the language.

When the rain eased off we wandered off to buy a baguette and of course a treat as well. Who can resist French patisserie?

Next morning, after a decent buffet breakfast at the hotel, we spent the morning having a better look around this gorgeous historic area.

Off to find the market, we headed the wrong direction and found ourselves at Place de La Liberation instead – but we’re glad we did!

Perhaps if we had followed the designated tourist walk, marked by owl signs, we wouldn’t have got lost at all? But it’s something we are quite used to!

The market was impressive, with a variety of goods outside and plenty of fresh produce inside, of course featuring locally made Dijon mustards.

Homeward bound, we stopped for lunch and stretched our legs at a little town called Dompierre-sur-Besbre.

And then, finally, home sweet home for some down-time… for a few weeks anyway. More adventures always await us!

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A week in western Germany

Last year, during our 3000 km, 11-day driving trip, we spent a week based in a timeshare resort (Landal Wirfttal) in Stadtkyll, Germany, just over the Belgium border.

It was our second visit to Germany, but the first time in a rural area, and I was caught off-guard when checking in – I don’t think I have ever been so completely language-less on our travels before. Nevertheless, pointing and nodding sufficed, and we found our basic, but perfectly comfortable cabin perched quietly on the hillside.

Exploring the adjoining woods was most enjoyable – fresh air and exercise at its best…

with lovely vistas overlooking the quaint village of Stadtkyll – providing plenty of photo opportunities.

We used the resort as our base, and spent most days driving off in one direction or another for big days out, sometimes screaming along the Autobahn at top speed while other vehicles zoomed past as if we were standing still.

We had a great day visiting Trier – said to be Germany’s oldest city…

Called into Koblenz – nestled in the junction of the Mosel and Rhine rivers…

and followed the magnificent Rhine from Koblenz to Assmannshausen…

then across to frantic Frankfurt – where we found a quiet corner.

Took a calming cruise in Cologne…

And closer by, went to see the medieval moated castle at Satzvey

and centuries-old semi-timbered houses at Kommern.

So many fabulous sights and experiences – I hope to tell you about them in more detail in future posts.

The German countryside was so lush and green everywhere we went, and the resort such a peaceful place to relax after a busy day out.

Or to freshen up and venture into town for a hearty meal.

We really had a wonderful week in western Germany.

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Back to it!

I can’t believe how long it is since I last blogged. Changing jobs and moving house were all-consuming tasks over the last 6 months (as we opt for a more “normal” lifestyle for a time), but now that I’m settled in on both fronts I can turn my attention back to those things I enjoy doing, in those precious moments of free time.

What better, then, than to share some photos of our beloved Argenton-sur-Creuse, and the simple but satisfying lifestyle it represents to us, as we count down the weeks till we are back there once more…

Walking around town is always an enjoyable pastime.

A stroll by the River Creuse always offers plenty of photo opportunities. We never tire of this view:

Our favourite spot by the River Creuse

And of course there are plenty more beautiful vistas!

We love going for walks by the River Creuse

It’s equally good to hike up the hill to La Bonne Dame…

La Bonne Dame

and enjoy the view across the rooftops of Argenton, and beyond as you catch your breath.

Argenton rooftops

Or wend your way around quaint streets lined with stone houses…

Quaint streets

or up enticing alleys.

Enticing alleyways

There are many places of historical interest to stumble upon, and let your imagination take you back to times long ago.

Places of historical interest

And a daily walk is a good way to build up an appetite for the obligatory baguette…

The obligatory baguette

or something sweeter, still warm from the baker’s oven at any number of the town’s boulangeries (bakeries).

Croissants still warm from the bakery

Ah, that’s the life! Don’t you think?

Can’t wait to be back.

 

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Visiting the land of beer, waffles and chocolate

When in Belgium it’s only right and proper to drink beer, eat waffles and indulge in some chocolate, don’t you think?

On our one day in the city of Brussels we did just that.

First things first though – stopping for a coffee.

It seems that good coffee is the one thing my husband misses about our home town of Melbourne, Australia. Personally, when travelling, I would much prefer to visit a café unique to the city we are in, but hey, I’m not the coffee drinker! So Starbucks it was. Again.

Mind you, the fabulous view of Brussels’ main square made this one unique.

Thank you Starbucks

La Grand Place (known in Dutch as De Grote Markt – market square) is truly magnificent, with highly decorative, gilded architecture on all sides, dating from the 14th to 17th centuries. No wonder it’s UNESCO listed.

Brussels Markt square

The more you look, the more you see.

Markt square

All that sightseeing builds up an appetite and waffles were calling.

We took the opportunity to compare the Brussels Waffle to the Liege Waffle. Although it was hard to choose between them, I preferred the lighter crisper Brussels version, and Tony the slightly heavier, doughy Liege waffle.

Belgium or Liege waffle

Later on, after trekking the cobblestoned streets and sleek shopping arcades (Galeries), it was time for a refreshing beer. Who knew I would turn into a beer drinker? There are so many to choose from here, all served in their own glass – on our travels we saw a shop that boasted 500 different Belgium beers, but I hear there are over 1000!

We were recommended to try the local triple-cooked chips. Beer and chips? Why not? Obviously we weren’t counting calories.

Une biere et frites

And chocolate… almost every second shop was a chocolate shop! We window-shopped in the highly priced “Mary’s” but decided on a beautiful box from “Neuhaus” (who bill themselves as “the inventor of praline”) featuring delectable chocolates from across their history since 1857. Oh my!

Neuhaus chocolates

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere. Every type, shape and size imaginable. Even in the shape of “Manneken Pis”…

Belgium chocolates

… a quirky little bronze fountain (not far from Grand Place) which has become a tourist attraction…

Manneken Pis

“Peeing Boy” (to be polite) is often dressed up in various festive costumes, but on this day he was naked.

Lucky for him it was a warm day.

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In bustling Bruges

Although it wasn’t on our original itinerary we decided we would visit Bruges – the capital of West Flanders in Belgium – to see this pretty (and pretty touristy) UNESCO-listed city of canals and cobblestones for ourselves.

Arriving on Ascension Day public holiday, the town was gearing up for the “Procession of the Holy Blood” parade and roads were blocked off. Navigation by car, and then on foot with barriers in place and crowds building proved challenging.

Parade Bruges

The Venice-like network of canals were of course the highlight.

Canal in Bruges

But unfortunately we ran out of time to enjoy a canal ride.

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Flemish stepped facades abounded – which are also referred to as Dutch Crow-stepped gables. A clever design – handy for chimney sweeps!

Stepped facade Bruges

We found a shady spot to relax over lunch. (Waffle and beer for me!)

Lunch Bruges

And although Bruges (also known as Brugge) was bustling with tourists it was surprisingly peaceful (though watch out for cyclists at every turn!)

Quiet corner Bruges

How beautiful it must be at night.

 

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A perfect resting place

It’s always exciting to venture into another country, and of course one of the beauties of Europe is that you can do that so easily. Not only are countries small but for those in the EU there is no border control making it so easy to drive between them.

With a friend having moved to Brussels recently it was the perfect incentive to venture into Belgium.

We were blown away by the view from our hotel room at the Belvedere in Heuvelland, just over the French border. You can just see Lille on the horizon. Stunning!

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I could have happily sat on that balcony for the next week – but we had an itinerary to follow, and on the agenda was a visit to one of the many military cemeteries in West Flanders: Nine Elms British Military Cemetery just outside Poperinge.

Military Cemetery Belgium

Tony dabbles in a bit of genealogy and ever since he had found out his great-uncle George had fought and died in Ypres in World War 1 he had wanted to visit his war grave there. (Details were found on the CWGC website.)

Great uncle George

Sadly, this is just one of many cemeteries in the area. Row after row of headstones standing at attention in perfect formation, just like the soldiers who now lie silently buried beneath.

Nine Elms Cemetery

So many young lives given for our freedom. But you couldn’t find a more peaceful resting place than here in the Belgium countryside.

After signing the visitors book we headed into the town of Ypres (known in Flemish as Ieper) where we were greeted by the sound of bells ringing out from the belfry atop the huge Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) complex.

Belfry Ypres

We arrived in Market Square (or Grote Markt) just in time to see the end of a Lotus sports car exhibition.

Ypres Lotus Day 2016

The brightly coloured vehicles were set against the backdrop of gorgeous architecture on all sides – reconstructed after the war, and many with the typical stepped facades.

Lotus Day Ypres

It was a certainly an impressive sight to see and perfect timing to hear the roar of the engines as the cars moved out, before we too had to move on.

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Lead me up the garden path

A visit to Monet’s Garden (or “Les Jardins de Claude Monet”) in Giverny, France, was definitely on my bucket list.

A little difficult to get to via public transport, it was a perfect place to break our long drive from central France to Belgium this month – especially since May was touted as the best time to go to see the garden in full bloom.

And, in keeping with the garden theme, we also drove via Versailles to visit the gardens of the Chateau (and just as well that was all we planned to do, because the palace – with the gilt sparkling in the sun – was truly enormous with hoards of visitors pouring in).

The gilted Palace of Versailles

I was a little disappointed that the gardens were not planted out, however they were still stunning in their design.

The gardens of Versailles

And the fountains, though not running, were also amazing.

Apollo Fountain at the Chateau de Versailles

The enormity of the grounds was breathtaking.

Latona Fountain Versailles

And the groves, fenced off but with an enticing gate ajar here and there, were a relief against the rigid structure of the rest of the garden.

Gate enticingly ajar

Only an hour’s drive away, we arrived at Monet’s Garden and I held my excitement at bay just in case they too were not at their absolute best (France had experienced some very late snow this year which may have disrupted normal planting cycles). But I had nothing to worry about.

Oh, it was food for the soul!

Groupings of harmonising or contrasting colours, every which way you looked was a feast for the eyes.

Contrasts - Monets garden

Lily pond Monets garden

Monets garden

Path at Monets garden

The house was also interesting (and included in the entry fee)…

Monets house

but for me, Monet’s Garden was absolutely spectacular and a sight I will never forget.

Favourite garden bed

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Life is a fleeting adventure

Life has a way of slipping us by.

The older we get, the quicker time goes – each day, month or year being a decreasing percentage of your lifetime to-date. And somehow our life keeps getting busier, with more and more demands on our increasingly limited time – many of them of our own making.

Our dreams get bigger and bolder and yet are often subjugated by the things we need to do rather than the things we want to do, and there is that underlying sense that we will never be able to do all that we would like to in the time we have left on this earth.

And yet, looking back on our short 5 years of marriage we have already done more than some people do in a lifetime:

We bought and renovated a house in France – living there for almost a year

Argenton sur Creuse, France

We travel as much as we can afford (and often a little bit more!)

Up up and away

We pursue many diverse hobbies and interests (and for me, blogging is just one of those – and my excuse for my spasmodic posting)

I meet new people and learn new things in my temporary admin work

Tony is ever-edging towards his dream of working in the food industry

Dreaming

We are constantly moving around the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, house-sitting or house-swapping

And with 9 children between us there is always something going on in the family – the latest being another leaf on the family tree.

Life is full, busy and exciting – some of which I manage to blog about!

Our life together is an adventure, and we aim to enjoy every precious fleeting minute – wherever it takes us.

Spain

Spain

Paris

Paris

New York

New York

New Orleans

New Orleans

Malta

Malta

London

London

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hawaii

Hawaii

Greece

Greece

Florence

Florence

Canada

Canada

Berlin

Berlin

Bangkok

Bangkok

 

Where to next?

Where to next?

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