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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My happy place

There is a little gem of a place quietly tucked away in central France called Argenton-sur-Creuse, and we are privileged to own a piece of it.

Here is a glimpse of what this treasure of a town holds:

Argenton sur Creuse town centre

A meandering street

Calm reflections

Fast flowing Creuse

Venice du Berry

The old bridge

The old mill

My happy place

Can you see why this is my happy place?

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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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