Alone in London

I have been lucky enough to travel far and wide during my lifetime. Perhaps being born in South Africa and voyaging across the Indian Ocean to a new life in Australia when I was only 2 years old firmly planted the travel-bug seed in me? No matter how it began, travelling is what puts the twinkle in my eye and the spring in my step.

It was a first for me, however, to be alone in a foreign country, this February. Not as daunting as it sounds, I only travelled from France to London on the Eurostar by myself for a short stay, in order to attend a job interview of all things.

St Pancras

Alas, I was unsuccessful in landing the job (I don’t think they understood my lifestyle), but I did have the fantastic experience of being alone in London. Now that’s not something I do every day!

London Eye

Whitehall Gardens

I found a neat little hotel a short walk from Paddington underground station (and just one street away from lots of eateries, although mostly the big breakfast at the hotel and a late lunch on the run was plenty for me)…

Alone in London

and once the interview was over and done, I set about enjoying my few days alone in this fabulous city.

Paddington

So what’s a girl to do on her own? Shop of course! I think I went into every single shoe shop in Oxford Street and beyond in search of the perfect pair of boots.

Harrods

Success.

Those boots were definitely made for walking, and that’s just what I did:

A stroll through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park…

Italian Gardens

Albert Memorial

en route to a cultural visit to the fabulous Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Took a cruise down the River Thames to Greenwich.

Cruise down the Thames

Tower Bridge

And although it’s a bit of a hike up to the Royal Observatory…

Royal Observatory Greenwich

it’s worth it, if only for the panoramic view of London.

Panoramic view of London

For me it was a chance to cross something off my bucket list when I straddled the Prime Meridian (and you don’t even have to pay to access this area, situated outside the Meridian Courtyard).

Astride the Prime Meridian

And I patiently waited to watch the red Time Ball rise and drop at precisely 1pm.

Royal Observatory Greenwich

I enjoyed some fascinating interactive displays in the Astronomy Centre (again, free) and even more so, the inspiring exhibition of amateur photography.

I toyed with the idea of going to Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant, but opted instead for the atmosphere of Greenwich Market where you are spoilt for choice with flavoursome food from all over the world.

Greenwich Market

I hope to return to London next year. Maybe then, better prepared, I might just land a job and be able to earn money on the “right side of the world” – closer to our beloved Argenton-sur-Creuse in France.

Now wouldn’t that be love-a-lee?

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Ever been to Evreux?

Sometimes plans just slot together perfectly, as if they were meant to be.

We had already booked our side-trip from France to Berlin when Tony was presented with the opportunity to visit a chocolate factory in Northern France (via a contact he made through his patisserie course in Melbourne) and the date of the tour fitted in perfectly with our return flight from Berlin to Paris.

Michel Cluizel chocolate factory is close to Évreux – a lovely French town in Upper Normandy, an hour west of Paris on the train (departing from Paris St Lazare).

Evreux train station

We made the most of it and stayed 2 nights at Hôtel de Normandie which lies on the outskirts of the town centre.

Hotel de Normandie

Although it was a bit of a hike to get there with baggage in tow, once checked in, it was an easy to walk back into the centre of town for a bit of shopping and sight-seeing.

Evreux

French Patisserie

The spectacular Cathedral of Our Lady of Évreux (Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Évreux) dominates the town…

Cathedral of Our Lady of Évreux

and is one of the largest cathedrals in France.

Evreux cathedral

The Museum of Art, History and Archaeology is also worth a visit (right next to the Cathedral, with free entry).

Evreux Museum

And they weren’t the only interesting things to see around town.

Bell tower, Evreux

Canal Evreux

But the real purpose of the trip was the guided tour of the Cluizel chocolate factory. Not the public tour, but that which is reserved for those within the industry (even still, some areas remain off-limits, lest their trade secrets get out!)

Michel Cluizel chocolate factory

We were met and chauffeured to the factory in Damville, about 1/2 hour away, along with 2 other visitors from Australia (but who were actually French).

During the course of the morning we learnt how they make their chocolate with total control over every step – right from the bean to final distribution. It was refreshing to hear that the quality of the product is more important to them than profit. These are the things which set this 3rd generation family business apart from the “big players”.

Of course, the tastings were the highlight. It really is quality chocolate – not too sweet, with a taste that lingers in the mouth – and you can distinguish the subtle differences in flavours of the various chocolates, made from cocoa beans grown in different locations – just like in wine tasting.

Chocolat

It was rather exhausting however, especially trying to understand all the French spoken between the others.

Back in Évreux we relaxed over lunch together at Côté Rôtisserie (the number 1 rated restaurant in Évreux on TripAdvisor) – where even more French was spoken as the others lapsed into their native language.

Cote Rotisserie

Ah, how I wish I could just lapse into French.

Now there’s something to aspire to!

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Berlin was a blast

Berlin is raw and emerging. Like an adolescent still finding his way, the eastern side of this city exudes a grungy, rebellious undertone.

Squats and graffiti scream their anti-establishment message.

Squat

Graffiti

Berlin grunge

The remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall are a reminder of the dark oppressive past – now adorned with sanctioned graffiti-like artwork expressing high hopes for a better future.

Lead me on

Berlin Wall

Alter the face of the world

No-one can ever know what the future holds, but the feeling here is that anything is possible, as long as you have freedom.

And it seems that anything is allowed.

A totally crazy New Years Eve where everybody lets off fireworks left right and centre from sunset until sunrise, with the crescendo being centred around Brandenburg Gate at midnight.

Brandenburg Gate

New Years Eve

Yes, of course there are official fireworks too, but you can see those ordered and orchestrated displays anywhere in the world.

The fireworks shooting out of windows, on the ground nearby, randomly all around – that’s what held my attention. Sometimes I felt like I was in a war zone and not a city-wide street party.

Random fireworks

Perhaps a little dangerous, but isn’t risk the very thing that makes life exciting?

Then the aftermath.

Like an tireless mother tidying up after a messy teenager – the council clean-up took days.

It was a great party

It was one of those “you had to be there” experiences that I will never forget.

We certainly had a blast in Berlin!

This is Berlin

 

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A winter wonderland

We celebrated this festive season with friends in Berlin, Germany, and hope yours was just as joyful.

Alight with Christmas decorations, and especially under a dusting of post-Christmas snow, Berlin was a winter wonderland – and with sunset around 4pm there was plenty of time to enjoy the Christmas lights.

A white Christmas Berlin under a blanket of snow Kurfurstendamm Berlin Pretty lights

The Christmas markets were magical – cute wood-hut stalls packed with Christmas novelties and street-food, where we enjoyed many German treats, such as:

  • Gluhwein (pronounced glue-vine) – hot spiced red wine with an optional kick of rum or Amaretto, perfect to warm up with on a cold winter’s night

Beating the cold with Gluhwein

  • Gulaschsuppe – flavoursome goulash soup, hearty and warming
  • Currywurst – German sausage doused in tomato sauce and topped with curry powder

Our favourite Christmas markets were:

  • Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (we went inside to see the amazing mosaics),

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Inside Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

where we went multiple times, conveniently located just around the corner from where we were staying at the funky “art’hotel berlin kudamm”,

and

  • Gendarmenmarkt where it costs 1 euro to enter but offers entertainment and unique stalls, nestled in between the gorgeous architecture of the German cathedral (Deutscher Dom), the French cathedral (Französischer Dom) and Concert House (Konzerthaus), we were sorry we only managed to visit once.

Gendarmenmarkt

Entertainment in front of the Konzerthaus

By the time we got to Schloss Charlottenburg the Christmas market held there was just a memory and in fact the castle itself was closed, being a Monday.

Schloss Charlottenburg

Never mind, we enjoyed the quiet and found we could still access the gardens at the back by walking around the block. Not even the increasing drizzle could dampen my delight in walking around the impeccable palace gardens.

Schloss Charlottenburg gardens

There are 3 large Christmas markets in Alexanderplatz and this is the place to go if you want rides, ice-skating or tobogganing – although we could never find a time when all 3 were open simultaneously.

Ice skating at Alexanderplatz

Christmas market at Alexanderplatz

Something which surprised us (being from Melbourne where the only day shops are shut is Christmas Day) was the prolonged closure of most stores, beginning at 2pm on Christmas Eve – signalled by the church bells ringing wildly and people pouring out of shop fronts – and not opening again until the morning of the 27th December. (A scenario repeated over the New Year period).

Shops are closed

It left us arriving almost empty-handed at our friend’s apartment where we enjoyed a traditional European Christmas Eve dinner and were showered with gifts, lots of food, a little too much wine and plenty of laughter.

A very merry Christmas

A very merry Christmas indeed.

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Argenton à vendre

So, after reading my blog, you’ve fallen in love with Argenton-sur-Creuse and want to buy your own little piece of this medieval town in the centre of France?

Well, hop off the train, and a quick walk up Rue Gambetta will reveal not only what I consider is one of the most impressive properties in town currently for sale (à vendre):

Houses for sale

but also a number of estate agents (or immobiliers):

Estate agentEstate agents

Walk through the town centre and up the main shopping mall of Rue Grande and you will pass yet another “Immobilier“:

Estate agents

And once you’ve finished window shopping, take a short wander around the surrounding streets and you will find an assortment of town houses for sale – which make an ideal lock-and-leave holiday house or pied-à-terre.

Houses for sale

Houses for sale

Houses for sale

Houses with garages are a little harder to find:

Houses for sale in Argenton sur Creuse

Houses for sale

But perhaps you’re after something a little more unusual?

Houses for saleHouses for saleOr maybe a riverside residence?

Houses for sale

Or would you like a little land attached? (Plenty of larger properties exist a little further from the centre of town, but this one is close to Centre Ville):

Houses for sale

Whether you plan to live, stay, or briefly visit, Argenton-sur-Creuse is certainly worth a look.

Argenton thanks you

Come and see for yourself (and don’t forget that we are open to house-swapping!) or just do what we did, and trawl the internet.

Happy house-hunting!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Argenton-sur-Creuse is a delightful town at any time of year, but with a sprinkling of Christmas magic it just makes me smile a little wider than usual.

Festivities begin in November:

Argenton en fete

Argenton en fete

And there is plenty going on in town:

Christmas market in Argenton

Christmas market in Argenton

Christmas carousel

Christmas carousel

Horse and carriage rides

Horse and carriage rides

Or simply walk around and enjoy the quaint Christmas decorations:

Santa is hanging around

Santa is hanging around

But wait - there's more!

But wait – there’s more!

Santa's helper in every shop window

Santa’s helper in every shop window

And Why not?

And Why not?

Christmas lights Av Rolliant

Christmas lights Av Rolliant

A pretty sight - Centre Ville

A pretty sight – Centre Ville

Rue Ledru Rollin

Rue Ledru Rollin

And it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the man in red:

Can you spot Santa?

Can you spot Santa?

Look who came to Argenton

Look who came to Argenton

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season. Joyeux fêtes.

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Just a matter of time (and money)

Each year, as time and money allows, we return to our little house in Argenton-sur-Creuse, France.

Argenton sur Creuse from the Old Bridge

Argenton sur Creuse from the Old Bridge

We take the local train to Southern Cross Station in Melbourne (Australia), then board the Sky Bus for the 20 minute ride to Tullamarine airport ($18 per person one way – however, a return ticket saves you a few dollars).

Two plane rides later (this time with Malaysia Airlines, via Kuala Lumpur), totalling 23 hours in the air, punctuated by meals, movies, and naps and there you are, safely deposited on the other side of the world. Amazing.

I found the entire trip quite easy and enjoyable. I guess I must getting used to it.

My top tips:

  • before boarding each flight go for a brisk walk around the terminal – taking turns to mind the cabin bags if you have a travelling companion so you can “go hard”
  • drink plenty of water throughout the flights
  • move and stretch often
  • take advantage of the “lights out” period to get as much sleep as possible during this “quiet” time – which coincides with night-time at your point of arrival

Interestingly, every movie I watched contained a similar thread and I’m sure I will remember them merged into one long elaborate story. It was just as shame that announcements from the captain came through my earphones at an uncomfortably loud volume, but I learnt to quickly pull them out of my ears as the familiar crackle signalled yet another interruption. It was my only complaint.

Once off the plane, take your time. There is no need to rush around or get impatient going through immigration. Your luggage will take ages to reach the carousel anyway. Welcome to France.

Arriving in Paris early in the morning and having booked an evening train down to Argenton, we had the day at leisure in this beautiful city. With no pre-determined agenda for the day you could say we “chilled out” in Paris – the weather was understandably brisk, being well into winter – although much milder than we had expected.

Opera district, Paris

Opera district, Paris

Christmas decorations at Galeries Lafayette

Christmas decorations at Galeries Lafayette

We only had 80 euros on us and no access to our French bank account (as our debit card had expired during our prolonged absence) but I thought that would be plenty. However, by the time we paid for €9.50 to store our luggage at the “Consignes” at Gare d’Austerlitz, another €13.70 for a carnet (pack of 10) metro tickets, and a sojourn at Macca’s to use their wi-fi (I love the way the French say “wee-fee”), then enjoyed a main course and a glass of wine at Le Royal Pereire for lunch at around €40, we were left with just a pocketful of change to buy a baguette, ham and cheese for a light dinner while we waited for our train in a new heated waiting area at Gare d’Austerlitz. (All was well when we arrived at our house, where we found our new debit card patiently waiting for us.)

Metro Gare d'Austerlitz

Metro Gare d’Austerlitz

Royal Pereire Restaurant

Royal Pereire Restaurant

Lunch at Royal Pereire

Lunch at Royal Pereire

After our day of meandering, we were glad to board the intercity train – although there was confusion when the carriage numbers did not correspond with the “Voiture” number on anyone’s tickets. We boarded number 17 though our ticket said 7 and our 2 randomly numbered seats were side by side so we figured we were in the right carriage. We heard an announcement (in French of course) which, as far as I could understand, told us to sit anywhere, and the conductor who checked our tickets was happy, so all was well.

Tony quickly drifted off to sleep and I busied myself on my laptop as the 2 1/2 hour train trip (direct to Argenton) slipped by.

Suitably refreshed, and excited to finally be back in Argenton-sur-Creuse, we walked our cases to our house, clattering along in the night.

Home at last.

The Creuse River, Argenton sur Creuse

The Creuse River, Argenton sur Creuse

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Memories of Malta

In June last year we spent a week in Malta, and it has taken me this long to weed through the copious photos taken.

I guess we got a little carried away in trying to capture the flavour, history and the natural beauty of Malta and neighbouring islands, and vow to be a little more selective in the photos taken, and more importantly, the photos saved, in future. My poor laptop groans under the virtual weight of 30,000 accumulated photos.

As I’ve blogged about the marvellous melting pot of Malta before, this time I’ll simply let a very small selection from the all-important photos do the talking:

Cafes opposite St John Co Cathedral

Cafes opposite St John Co Cathedral

Cruising the Grand Harbour

Cruising the Grand Harbour

Typical enclosed wooden balconies

Typical enclosed wooden balconies

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Upper Barrakka Gardens

The Saluting Battery - Upper Barrakka Gardens

The Saluting Battery

Sliema

Sliema

Spinola Bay

Spinola Bay

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk

Vittoriosa

Vittoriosa

Maltese lunch with a glass of Kinnie

Maltese lunch with a glass of Kinnie

St Paul's Grotto and Catacombs

St Paul’s Grotto and Catacombs

The walk down to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples

The walk down to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples

Ruins of temples older than the pyramids

Ruins of temples older than the pyramids

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

Comino, Gozo and caves cruise

Comino, Gozo and caves cruise

Smugglers Cave

Smugglers Cave

St Paul's Island

St Paul’s Island

Comino

The island of Comino

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon, Comino

Elephants Head Rock

Elephants Head Rock, Comino

The island of Gozo

The island of Gozo

Makes me want to go back!

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Reminiscing about Rome

As I teenager I developed a hankering to visit those exciting cities whose names I saw emblazoned on carry bags from fancy fashion stores: London, Paris, New York, and Rome.

We visited Vatican City while on a cruise a couple of years ago and I was disappointed that we didn’t have time to see anything of Rome itself. So, en route from France to Malta last year – needing to change planes in Rome anyway – we added a stopover to tick that last city off my teenage bucket list. (We booked for 3 nights but we missed our flight so sadly had one precious night less in Rome).

Two nights are not enough time to see “everything” anywhere, let alone Rome – although let’s face it, we can live in a city for 20 years and fail to see it all – but we certainly gave it our best shot.

From the small unexpected vistas…

Beautiful detail

Beautiful detail

Cafe culture

Cafe culture

Fresh water fountain

Fresh water fountain

Ruins of Largo Argentina

Ruins of Largo Argentina

… to the big tourist drawcards…

St Peters Square

St Peters Square

Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

Trevi fountain

Trevi fountain

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine

… there is something amazing to see around every corner in Rome.

But our underground tour of the Colosseum was definitely a highlight for us.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum - from below

The Colosseum – from below

The Colosseum - from the top

The Colosseum – from the top

The Colosseum - from inside

The Colosseum – from inside

So with that particular bucket list “done” am I satisfied? Absolutely not!

There’s a big wide world out there and I want to see as much of it as I possibly can.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

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Whatever the weather

No matter where you are in the world and what you are planning to do – you can’t control the weather.

A summer's day in Gargilesse

We are currently house-swapping – living in a house in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs while the owners are enjoying our house in central France.

Blue skies in Argenton

Coming to the end of winter here in the Southern hemisphere, we were treated to a couple of spring-like days over the last week – teasing us with a glimpse of the end of what has been a very long, cold, wet winter – or perhaps we are just spoilt, not actually having lived through an entire Melbourne winter for the last 4 years?

Meanwhile, in our gorgeous town of Argenton-sur-Creuse, our house-swappers complained that “L’été n’est pas très chaud à Argenton” (Summer is not very hot in Argenton) and I raised my eyebrows in distinct lack of sympathy. But after checking the local weather forecast – via the weather tracker at the bottom of my blog page – I could understand why they were complaining.

With forecast maximums from just 18 to a more respectable 24 degrees Celsius for the next week, a few rather cool nights (even down to 14 degrees) and some showers, they did have reason to be rather disappointed if they were expecting a “real” summer by Australian standards.

The Creuse River

But Argenton is in central France, and you need to head further south if you really want high temperatures. However, in terms of averages, they are doing quite well for this time of year – now heading towards Autumn as it is in the Northern hemisphere.

Perfectly peaceful

In our experience, clouds quickly clear to reveal gorgeous blue skies, and it can actually feel quite hot there at 24 degrees which sounds mighty good to us. We would trade places with them in a heartbeat.

La Bonne Dame

But whatever the weather, we love Argenton-sur-Creuse and can’t wait to get back there ourselves. We have finally booked our return tickets and will be spending winter in France this time – and hoping it will snow for us once more.

Snow and sunshine in Argenton

Argenton is extra pretty with sunshine making the snow on the rooftops sparkle.

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