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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aurevoir Europe 2010

18th August 2010

The week of hosts!


Mathias and Tanja - Our previous hosts in Brussels


To be so spoilt by people you have never met is such an honour. We have been privileged to share our lives with three families over the past week. We have experienced the personalities, culture and lifestyles of people from three different countries.


Several friends and family members have questioned our choice to join homelink and exchange our home or host/be hosted by people with have never met. Questions such as, “Aren’t you worried about what they might do to your home?” or “What if you don’t like the people?” are often asked.


The week has proved how fabulous being hosted can be. First Nunspeet – west of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Marco and Linda - Nunspeet
Linda and Marco are 27 & 30 years old and bought their gorgeous home a few years ago. They both work about ½ hour from Nunspeet. Both took time off work to host us and as I said in my last blog took us for the wonderful 40km bike ride. Yes we had been to the gay pride festival in Amsterdam but that had nothing to do with our very sore butts! Thanks Marco for trying to kill us, you almost succeeded! It was his way of ensuring we could not come down the stairs during the night and kill them! We taught Marco and Linda rummy – Kat’s version! I think Glen may have won. After two wonderful days we headed south to Antwerp.
Herman & Annemie - Antwerp


Antwerp is in Belgium. Again it is a gorgeous city that we should have spent more time in. Our hosts Herman & Annemie are retired teachers. We arrived to coffee, chatted and made ourselves at home in their beautiful home with a quaint garden and wooded area behind their home. We headed into Antwerp and wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets towards the town square. An absolutely stunning town with fabulous designer dress shops and plenty of cafes. We bought some presents and then headed back to Herman & Annemie’s for dinner. Herman makes guitars and Annemie, along with many family members, paints. The house is filled with paintings and to Glen’s delight guitars! We went for a 5km evening brisk walk! It was a quick stopover in Antwerp as the next day we were heading to Luxembourg.
Stefan & Toni - Luxembourg


Luxembourg here we come. Stefan, Toni and daughter Anna were just fabulous. We arrived in time for dinner – traditional Moussaka, vine leave wrapped rice. Yes the family originated in Bulgaria. Again a family speaking 4+ languages, how inadequate we feel! We headed to Germany about 20 mins away, the next day for dinner – a small village with a fortress which have the most divine family owned restaurant. Our German is non-existant but we did tell the chef that it was the best meal we had eaten out. The ambience watching the sunset over the vineyards, candles, great company and superb food was wonderful. Stefan and Toni asked us to stay another day! In our schedule we had a spare day before having to be in Paris so agreed. We slept in a bit Saturday but after another wonderful breakfast we headed again to Germany to Their. We headed up to a high viewpoint to see the city and have lunch. The hostess was somewhat stressed and really didn’t want to serve more people so after a quick drink, we decided to eat in town. What a cute town – quite touristy but lunch was relaxed and enjoyable. Back home for dinner – Vanessa’s turn to cook – Onion soup and then salmon! Lots of wine, beer,cognac and snaps! Another very late night after an evening of chatter.


Sunday we thought we should see Luxembourg! It rained well according to Glen it was mizzle! Now I have never heard of mizzle but even word’s dictionary believes it’s a word. So I’ve learnt a new one! We went through the casements – pretty incredible. 17kms of underground tunnels remain today. Luxembourg back in the 1800’s was known as the Gibraltar of the north. During world war 2 - 35000 people could be protected in the casements! We had lunch in the city – again we foiled them and were able to pay for the meal without them suspecting! We always tried to pay for meals out with out hosts – sometimes this was difficult. As Marco, (from the Netherlands), would agree we were good at doing this! We then did the tour through the palace. The rain did not stop all day so we headed home for champagne and dinner! Stefan cooked prawns in garlic and constantly filled our glasses with alcohol. Late in the night or should I say early the next morning Glen disappeared – bed had called! After champagne, rose wine, champagne again, cognac and snaps the head was suffering! Monday - time to head to Paris.


Our week had been fabulous and we couldn’t thank our hosts enough. On the trip we had 5 families host us and all provided unique memorable experiences but beyond this new friends who we will keep in touch with.


The first to come to Australia will be Mathias and Tanja from Brussels and we can’t wait to spoil them and show them our area! I would recommend this style of travelling to anyone.
Notre Dame


Hotel de Ville
So now we are back in Paris – in the first hotel after 6 weeks. Yes we spent three nights in a B&B. This hotel overlooks the Seine & Notre Dame in the Latin Quarter. Fabulous position! Today we are tired though and hope our 3 days in KL revitalize us ready for work, we shall see! We left a bag in Paris at Karine’s and she left it for us at our favourite café, “Cristal”. It felt good to walk back into the café and have the owner hug us and say, “Bonjour Glen et Vanessa – le sac?” We ate lunch and also drank the best coffee in Paris again. Paris definitely has it’s own spell that takes hold and doesn’t not seem to lift. We found ourselves again, looking at apartments for sale in Paris!







Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belgium

Kat, Vanessa, Glen and Ben at the Somme

31st July Belgium







Currently Glen is driving our little brand new Citroen C3 on the right hand side of the road. He has successfully stayed on the “right” side of the road most of the time. On a couple of country lanes on the Somme, Ben had to quickly remind Glen, “Dad the other side.” We are actually just leaving Belgium heading towards Middelburg in the Netherlands which is only a 40 minute drive.






We have fallen in love with Belgium and especially Ghent. We only spent 3 hours in Ghent but want to come back. It is such a beautiful town. One I can’t describe correctly so tonight I will download the photos and learn to upload them onto the blog. Ghent is only 30 minutes from Brussels. It is a charming university town built in the 13th century.






11:44 pm Australian time on Saturday but only 3:44pm here and we just crossed the borders into the Netherlands. Only a tiny sign marked the change of country.






Now back to Ghent. The town centre displays buildings of classical gothic architecture, the Town Hall and St Baafs and St Nicholas’ Cathedrals. The medieval castle in the town centre dates back to 1100AD is still is pristine condition and known as the Castle of the Counts. As we left the castle a bride and groom arrived with their photographer – What an amazing location for wedding photos. The canals, which you can go on boat trips along, pass rows of step-gabled guild houses. The canals are lined with cobblestone walkways filled with cafes and restaurants. Pots of brightly coloured petunias also hang in baskets and line the handrails. It is a festival of colour and delightful architecture. The market place is filled with people – drinking beer or coffee. The town has such a relaxed pace.


Cathedral Ghent




We are now driving 6 kms under a river in a tunnel – not Glen’s favourite thing to do. I think he held his breathe the entire way and was saved by Muse playing loudly on the ipod.






I have digressed from a linear description of our trip – let’s go back to leaving Paris. Our home swap in Paris was indeed an absolute delight. We loved the position, the local café and patisserie and even the tailor. It was sad to leave.






Ben, Kat, Glen and I picked up our car and headed to the Somme for a 2 day tour of the World War 1 battlefields. Never have I felt so in awe of a generation of men who fought probably knowing there was little chance they would survive. To stand in a grave yard of 12000 buried soldiers with 75000 names of soldiers whose bodies were not found leaves you in silent respect, especially when this is only one of hundreds of graveyards. My understanding of the Great War was developed by both Vic and Diane as they told stories of individual men, explained strategies of the generals, told of successes and failures of battles and I have gained a reverent respect for the soldiers. We stayed with our British guides in their Bed and Breakfast.






Thursday we took Ben and Kat to Calais to pick up their camper van. We left them in Calais and headed to Bruges. We wandered through the centre of Bruges but decided it was way too touristy. We headed towards Brussels to meet Tanja and Mathias, our hosts from homelink.


Days have passed by. We really enjoyed Brussels and wished we had more time there – loved the town square and of course our hosts. We happened upon a Salvador Dali exhibition – it was fabulous. We get the privilege of spoiling Mathias, Tanja and the children, our hosts, when they visit us later in the year.






It is now a week later – one week in Amsterdam. What a crazy city. We have been through the Heineken factory, been to a comedy theatre production, traveled around the canals by canal bus, watched the gay pride parade, wandered the red light district, sat in a coffee shop and watched an intriguing world wander by and right now are enjoying relaxing back at the house we have swapped!






Ghent our favourite city
Tomorrow morning we head East to Nunspreet.






Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paris 25th July

Sunday 25th July 9:48am


It is an overcast morning, a cool breeze but not cold. The traffic on Saint Martin Boulevade is slow, mainly taxis and service vehicles. Sunday mornings, Paris sleeps. Only backpackers are seen amberling by. At Cristal Café only one old man sits at the bar slipping coffee and chatting to the waiter. The tables out the front are all mine until a single backpacker sits in front of me – he orders expresso of course.


It seems impossible to give an impression of Paris without describing the lifestyle. This trip we have enjoyed living in a Parisian apartment, having our regular morning coffee at our favourite café, buying our baguettes from the same patisserie and frequenting my favourite gardens, Luxembourg.

Yes we went up the Eiffel Tower with Ben, Kat and Addy perfectly timed at sunset. Watching the city morph from a sea of buildings to a city of lights was a fabulous experience.


Possibly the most intriguing experience was walking through the catacombs. The maze of tunnels filled with human remains from hundred of years ago filled me with a sense of compassion and awe of a bygone era. It was an interesting solution to a city’s problem.


We climbed the circular stairwell of the crypt of the Bastillica of Sacrea Coeur and looked out over the city of Paris during mid afternoon. It seems architectural prowess is no longer emulated in society today. As Glen commented perhaps the equivalent today is the football stadiums in South Africa. Pilgrims come from all over the world to worship the players – watch and partake!


Once again we visited Notre Dame, the Louvre and Pont Neuf. The beauty of these buildings can still be breathe taking a second time.


Do I have another coffee or go and wake Glen?


It is now 11am and the Parisians are beginning to wander by, baguettes in hand. More people sit at the café. The aroma of hot coffee surrounds me. The traffic is building up but I have not yet heard a siren! Perhaps an hour more of peace.


Tomorrow Ben, Kat, Glen and I leave for the Somme – the World War 11 battlefields area. My quiet morning routine will end!


By the way have any of you read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”? It is a well written intriguing crime novel - worth a read.


I will be sad to leave Paris and could indeed come back. “Monsieur, une café au lait s’il vous plait!”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Monday 12th

Monday 12th July – World Cup Final.




I woke to the raucous shouts of six English guys on the platform of the RER below. I wanted to yell out the window – you’re the reason the French don’t like the English and neither do Australians, but I didn’t. I climbed out of bed and shut the double glazed windows and pulled the curtains. Instant silence – amazing! I glanced at the clock, 9am, way too early to be awake. An hour or so later I stirred, got up and made a Nespresso. Glen was still asleep. I looked out the kitchen window into the courtyard, it was drizzling outside. Time to check my emails and wake Glen. Glen groaned, told me he felt not so good and rolled over.



The smell of the patisserie lured me down the circular stairwell and around the corner… today a “Pain au chocolat” and a traditional baguette. I had time so I stopped at the café – ordered a coffee and felt somewhat Parisian sitting watching the people pass by. We each sat, 5 of us, at small tables, the man in the beret sipping his espresso glanced up only as pretty lady’s walked by, the couple at the end were deep to conversation, while the man beside me ate his omelette while reading “Le monde”. A sixth sat beside me smiled and said “Bonjour” I replied and she promply said, “Australia?” She was a teacher from Adelaide – in Paris on a school excursion but one of the teachers had had a heart attack and was in hospital down the road. She had stayed as she spoke French while the class went onto London. She was a jolly personality with a true Australian spirit. She suggested great places to go and things not to miss.



I returned to the apartment – Glen was still not feeling so good. I decided to wander to the Latin Quarter and look for some shoes and band-aids. It didn’t take long to succeed in my quest – yes some good Vanessa style heels to save her feet! My next mission was to find a traditional fondue restaurant. So I wandered through the narrow streets, trying to avoid the hawkers wanting me to come and eat but getting close enough to read the menus. Finally I asked a gentleman at a restaurant who, of course, assured me their menu was authentic! Mission accomplished – homeward bound – heels on saving my feet! The metro and back in two stops.



Glen was feeling a little better so we decided to find a place to watch the game. Back on the RER to Notre Dame – he wanted to find an Irish Pub. It should have great atmosphere. We enjoyed the cool breeze as the sun streamed down the streets. It was warm! Not a heat wave like at the signs kept telling us – not in Australian terms or should I say Adelaide terms! Glen was starting to get tired, still not 100% so was decided to head back to Port Royal. We had walked our mandatory number of steps for the day and definitely several kilometres. Now we were both exhausted. We sat on the lounge watching the final of the World Cup. I kept drifting to sleep and waking. I really wanted to see the full game – was it jet lag or was I getting a bug!

We succeeded in watching the winning kick! It was the conclusion to World Cup fever! No more regular 4am mornings for 4 years!



Wow that was a long winded 12th!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

2010 France and the Low countries - Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg

Paris - 11th July 2010

After a 9 hour flight to KL, Malaysia and then a 13 hour flight aboard Malaysian airlines we landed in Paris!

Took the RER to Port Royal and met the cleaner of the apartment who showed us in and explained how to use everything in her simplest French.  Vanessa interpreting in my basic French!  Every now and again we resorted to writing - she in French for me to translate and I in English which she could understand!

This is where we are in Paris - on the third floor in a 3 bedroom apartment.  In Parisian terms we are in a very large apartment!

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Avenue+Georges+Bernanos,+75005+Paris,+France&sll=-32.947365,151.652176&sspn=0.00542,0.01575&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Avenue+Georges+Bernanos,+75005+Paris,+Ile-de-France,+France&ll=48.839357,2.341332&spn=0.010225,0.039482&z=15

Karine and her 3 children are at home in our place - which the children are absolutely loving!  Space!

It was the typical departure from Australia - long days and short nights.  Little sleep and lists that we thought we would never get through.  I suppose this trip was different to any other.  This was the first total home swap. 

Getting the house ready became a challenge after Brent reversed his car into the wall and put a hole right through!  Yes $12000 worth of damage!  Not a soft small hole!  How you ask, did he do this?   Well at about midnight - a car load of kids and ug boots on!  His story is it got caught between the brake and accelerator and hence a speedy reverse into the wall.  Glen and I were upstairs watching the football when we heard the very large bang!  "That doesn't sound good"  I commented!  Then I looked - "That did not look good!"  Glen didn't look at it until Richard came almost 2 days later!

So began the repairs,  pulling down an entire wall exterior and interior and rebuilding and painting!  Painting - well we went a little further than Brent's room!  Luke's room, the hall and all the patches Glen repaired finally!

And now with that all behind us - we are in Paris.

In two days we have successfully stressed our leg muscles and I have 2 serious blisters on my ankles!  Why is it when we travel I always get blisters?  The three storeys of circular stairs to the apartment definitely has killed our calves!

Friday - We landed at Charles de Gaulle airport at 7am and caught the RER.  Unpacked and walked to the Latin Quarter down the road. 

We ate at a cafe and met a french man going to a wedding and a family from Brasil.  My feet already had blisters so off to the pharmacy!  The Louvre courtyard and then through the Tuillerie Gardens all the way up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe! 

A wine and a 1664 at the local bar before a nap! Jet lagged just a little!  We woke but decided we didn't need dinner.  Another walk before an early night!


Saturday seemed such a long day!  We woke and walked around the Luxembourg Gardens then through the middle as the gates where opened.  They are such spectacular gardens - and so close to our apartment.  First we found the patisserie and indulged.  Then we found the food street market around the corner and ambled through enjoying the colours, smells and flurry of people.  We indulgently bought olives and cheese - fresh tomatoes and basil.

Next we headed to Rue de Rivoli to purchase tickets to Mont St Michel - a day trip but a place I really want to see.  Glen has been there.    We then rode the ferris wheel in the Tuilerie Gardens - photographing the view across the city.

We then headed to Marche de la Creation at Bastille.  A craft/art market.  I got a fabulous idea for portrait photography from a French photographer!  I also bought 4 prints to frame as a memory of Paris. 

We wandered through the streets of Ile de France near Notre Dame, saw lovers sitting on the banks of the Sienne, tourists buying ice ceams and then ate lunch at a small resturant at about 3pm! 

It was time to have a siesta!  We woke at 8pm and headed to Montpanasse a couple of blocks away!  We found a resturant with the football and sat and watched the last half of the Germany vs Uraguay game!  More wandering and sorer heals!  We decided to catch the metro back!

All this in one day!