OEuilly

The capital O and E together is not a typo. In French, it looks as though the two letters are joined. I’m typing in English, though, so you’ll need to trust me on that.

This dinky little town might be difficult to pronounce (it’s something like wee-yee) but it’s seriously cute in a grey-stone quintessential French village sort of way. It’s one of those towns that make you want to see what’s behind the shutters, what’s on the kitchen tables, why there is fake grass used as fences. Yes, fake grass on fences. Bunnings is missing out on a whole market there.

There’s a well and a centre of town that I like to imagine was just like the tiled pictures in the photos below.

OEuilly has a 13th-century church that sits on the top of the hill and has views all down the valley. In the churchyard are five white marble gravestones – for RAF airmen who died on May 4, 1944. They must have been in the same plane or the same formation. There was the pilot, two gunners, the air bomber and the wireless operator.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.

OEuilly is located on the Vallee de la Marne Champagne Route (you’ll have to imagine that the accents that should be over some of these letters are actually there) it’s about 13kms from Epernay and 27kms from Reims in the heart of Champagne.

The town also has plenty of champagne producers and a museum devoted to wine-growing – the Economusee d’OEuilly. Again, you can put the accent thingies over the “e” yourself. Early in the morning as we walked through town, these strange tractors moved from field to field. They looked like monster trucks but in an agricultural form – so designed to be able to drive through the vineyards without damaging the vines.

Although we came to the region for the champagne, it’s not why we were here in OEuilly. OEuilly was the first stop on our foodie road-trip and we were here for Jean-Eric’s cooking. Well, not just Jean-Eric’s cooking…but it’s as good a reason as any.

road-tripping

L’Oeuillade en Champagne

This charming little gite in the heart of Champagne was to be our home for the first night of our road-trip – and it didn’t disappoint.

Choosing accommodation for 3 people when 2 of them are a couple (me and hubby) can be a tad difficult – as well as we get on together, we do also need a certain amount of our own space.

L’Oeuillade had plenty of living space and 3 good sized bedrooms. If we’d been inclined to cook, we had all the facilities to do so. Cooking, though, was the last thing on our minds.

What would be on our mind? Champagne, of course…in the garden.

We’d dropped in for a sneaky bubbly tasting at Epernay on our way in – to pick up some supplies for the evening – and this is where we settled…pretty much for the night.

And why not? It was a glorious Spring evening and we had plenty of champagne, portable speakers, comfy chairs, and views like this.

Best of all, because we’d reserved dinner in-house, Jean-Eric, our host, and his lovely wife brought our meal to us. Bliss. Great food with no washing up. Their house was across the road, and that’s where they brought each course of our meal from.

We started with champagne which Jean-Eric had hubby open sabrage style – with a champagne sabre. The video was on Instagram, but essentially the sabre breaks the neck and the cork of the bottle away. It’s all very dramatic.

not the bottle we opened with the sabre

The meal that followed was one of the best we had in France. It was, without a doubt, the best value one we had too.

What did we eat?

Parmentier de Foie Gras sauce au vin – sliced potatoes with pate and a red wine sauce. I would never have thught of this combo in a million years but it worked.

Papillote de Rouget au Champagne – Red mullet with champagne sauce cooked “en papillote” ie in paper. THE best fish dish we had in France. I’ve found a recipe I’ll be experimenting with, but I doubt it will be as good as this one on a warm Spring evening in Champagne with champagne.

Sorbet au Marc de Champagne – the marc is a brandy made from the discarded skins and seeds in the process of making champagne. It was poured over the sorbet as a very tasty palate cleanser.

Joues de Porc à la Bière de Marne – pork cheeks cooked in local beer. Sorry, no pic…but very yummy.

Assiette des Trois Fromages – a selection of cheese. I especially loved the cream cheese which was similar to the cervelles de canuts that we would later taste in Lyon.

Sabayon de fruits et ratafia – a sabayon served with berries and a glass of the local ratafia, a spirit that is essentially a fortified grape brandy.

And all washed down with the “supplies” we’d purchased in Epernay. It was the type of meal that memories are made of. And all for 35 euros a head*

If you’re heading to Champagne and want to know more about L’Oeuillade en Champagne, you can find Jean-Eric’s website here. We, however, found him on Air BNB. Hde and his wife were brilliant hosts.

*Price was as of April 2018.

Next time: A Day in Champagne…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Tyne Cot and Ypres – On Flanders Fields

Tyne Cot

Just over 50 kms from Brugge (Bruges) and 40kms from Lille sits an area of farmland. There are blossoms and Cyprus trees and, at this time of the day, the birdsong is glorious.

This is Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing. A big title, yes, but a fitting one for the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world – in any war.

The area around Ypres and Passendale (or Passchendaele) stood smack bang in the middle of Germany’s planned sweep through the rest of Belgium and into France in WW1. As such, it was considered strategically important by both German and Allied Forces. From late in 1914 (the first battle of Ypres) both sides dug in for the duration.

I won’t bore you with the war history – suffice to say countless lives were lost for very small gains. In the worst of the battles in 1917 – the Battle of Passchendaele – over half a million lives were lost.

If you look across the fields now you can see barely a rise in the ground, yet any tiny undulation was fought for and defended. Tyne Cot stands on one of these, with German bunkers or shelters still part of the cemetery.

The statistics

Tyne Cot is the resting place of almost 12,000 Commonwealth servicemen – over 8,300 of whom remain unidentified – their graves are marked with the inscription “A soldier of the Great War…known unto God.”

Yes, those numbers are correct. These men all died in the fighting around Ypres (Ieper) between 1914 – 1918, but most fell during the Battle of Passchendaele, or Third Battle of Ypres, in 1917.

The Memorial Wall

The stone wall around the cemetery – the memorial wall – lists the names of almost 35,000 servicemen of the UK and New Zealand who died between August 1917 and November 1918 and who have no known grave.

The numbers are actually worse than this. The original intention was to list all the names of British servicemen who died in the Ypres area on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres (see below) but they ran out of space to do so. An arbitrary cut-off date of 15 August 1917 was decided on, with the remainder of the names being listed at Tyne Cot.

Four graves here are for unnamed German soldiers treated here after the battle. Their inscriptions are in German.

Standing here in 2018 it’s hard to fathom the vast difference between the area as it is now – green, leafy and full of birdsong – to the chaos, filth and noise these men must have died in. The ground was virtually liquefied by shelling and the trees long turned to matchsticks.

It’s a fitting and respectful memorial – and one that you can help but be moved by.

Ypres

It’s fair to say that Ypres (or Ieper) has been pretty unlucky over the years when it’s come to wars.

Even before it was literally flattened in World War 1, it was the scene of a number of battles and sieges – dating all the way back to the first century when the Romans took a liking to it. In the 13th century, a huge fire took most of the city out, in the 14th century it was besieged in the Norwich Crusades, and in 1678 it was captured (briefly) for France by Louis IV.

Ypres became part of the Hapsburg empire early in the 18th century, before being captured again by the French 80 years later. Then, of course, came the three battles of Ypres (deliberately mispronounced Wipers by English soldiers) in WW1 – which obliterated the town.

Rebuilding Ypres

Ypres became a symbol of all the British were fighting for – and a place of pilgrimage after the war. Using money paid by Germany in reparation the town was rebuilt. Some buildings so closely resemble the original that it’s hard to believe that they haven’t been here all along.

The Cloth Hall (originally built in the 13th century) in particular is a very close replica. (Unfortunately, we were there as the sun was going down so my pics aren’t great.)

Ypres these days has the title of “city of peace” and is a sister city with Hiroshima – both cities sharing some devastating commonalities. Ypres is where chemical warfare was first used and Hiroshima…well, we know that story.

Aside from its importance as a place of memorial, Ypres is also popular with war and family historians.

Menin Gate

The Menin Gate in Ypres is a memorial to the missing.  The names of over 54,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died in the battles around Ypres up to August 15, 1917, and whose graves are unknown are listed here.

To honour the fallen, every evening at 8 pm sharp the Last Post is played under the Menin Gate Memorial. The ceremony has taken place every day since 1928. The night that we attended was the 31,012th ceremony.

The playing of the Last Post is generally followed by the laying of wreaths by families of the fallen or other associations. The ceremony is then concluded by the buglers playing the Reveille – to mark a return to daily life at the end of the homage.

According to the website, the Menin Gate was chosen as the location for the ceremony because of its special symbolic significance. It was from this spot that countless thousands of soldiers set off for the front, many of them destined never to return. If you want to know more about this incredibly emotional service, duck across to The Last Post website.

Check out my other posts from France at this link.

 

 

 

Brugge…

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, way back in the 13thand14thcenturies, there existed a city that was so prosperous that the wealth of its citizens rivalled that of queens.

Its fortune was made on the back of textiles and trade, with international traders setting up here to do business with the ships laden with all sorts of exotic goods – wool, wine, silks, spices –that berthed here. The city was so important that stock exchanges today are still called bourses in many languagesafter the trader’s house that many merchants met in during the 13thcentury right here.

It was here that English wool was converted into fabric, and here that Flemish artists painted works for such perfection.

As often happens in these situations, the craftsmen began to disagree and stand up to their overlords. Retributions followed – as retributions often do – and traders began looking for somewhere else to do business. Merchants followed the traders and the city began to fall into a decline.

Then disaster struck…

The long sea channel that connected the city with the sea – and the city’s economic lifeline – silted up. With access to the sea gone, houses were abandoned, and canals remained empty.

The city slumped into a slumber that would last around 400 years – which is, in a way, somewhat appropriate for a place that looked as though it had sprung straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

The city is Brugge (or Bruges), and it’s thanks (in part) to this extended slumber that it miraculously survived two world wars.  Some tourists made their way through late in the 19thcentury on their way through to Waterloo (does anyone else want to burst into song at that name, or is that just me?) but it wasn’t until much later that Brugge was rediscovered.

Today it’s a picture postcard example of a perfectly preserved medieval city.

In the past Brugge’s trade was mercantile, today it’s about tourists with its prime assets being a massive market square, narrow cobbled streets, historic churches, perfectly preserved buildings and photogenic, willow-draped canals.

Textiles are still popular, with plenty of shops selling tapestries and lace – keep an eye out for the map of the city done in lace. The pic below doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.

Chocolate is king here. You can buy all chocolate here from commercial novelties (think phallic – this is a PG-rated site so I won’t post the pics) to artisan chocolatiers. The entire city is full of air-borne calories, so take care not to breathe too deeply.

Truffles

We visited on a day-trip from Lille so sadly had just a short time to explore. Anyways, here’s some of what we did see…

Markt

And no, I haven’t spelt it incorrectly – there is no “e”. This open market square is the centre of town.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

Tucked into the square, beside a chocolate shop, is the Heilig- Bloedbasiliek or Basilica of the Holy Blood.

It takes its name from the phial that apparently holds a few drops of Christ’s blood. For the donation of a few euros, you can check it out. It doesn’t look anything like blood – not that I’d know what blood would look like after it’s been in a phial for over a thousand years.

Anyways, it was reportedly brought here in the 12th century after the Crusades. The Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood was formed soon after to protect and preserve and venerate it – which all sounds a little Dan Brown-ish.  Each Ascension Day they do a procession through the city.

There’s even a legend that every hundred years the blood flows again. Given no one alive has actually seen this phenomenon I suspect it’s a little like the “back in 30 minutes” signs you see on shop doors – when you don’t know when the thirty minutes actually has started.

It does, however, make for a good story, and from a rather nondescript exterior, the stairs lead up and around into a lovely and intricately decorated chapel.

Half Moon Brewery

Brugge is very much a beer town, yet there’s only the one family-run brewery still actually operating in town- Half Moon Brewery…the perfect spot to stop for lunch after walking all morning. Although this brewery was founded in 1856, there has, in fact, been a brewery on this site since 1564.

The 2-course menu here was 22E, so we shared the shrimp croquettes and I had the Flemish Beefstew – which is, incidentally, called Carbonnade or Carbonade Flamande in Flemish France. (Keep an eye out for the recipe over the next few days).

Hubby and F chose the beer ham and cheese soup – also excellent – and thankfully helped me out with my fries.

On the subject of fries, or frites, it seems that the nationality of the cook who accidentally dropped a piece of potato into some hot oil and invented the chip is as hotly debated as the question of who made the first pavlova. The Belgians say it was them, and the French claim that it was in fact them. Whatever – these fries were flipping good.

The Beer Wall

On the subject of beer, we had to check out the 2 be Beer Wall. there are over 1800 beers – and their accompanying glasses (all Belgian beers have a branded glass that the beer should be served in) – in the wall. Wait, wasn’t there a song about that? 1800 beers on the wall…no?

The bar has only about ten beers on tap at any one time, but plenty more in bottles. Worth a look…and a drink.

Canal Cruise

Yep, it’s seriously touristy, but at 8E it’s worth it to get a different view of this gorgeous city.

A must do.

The Cathedral

St-Salvatorskathedraal…Sweeping high ceilings and antique tapestries make this one interesting.

While we were wandering around there was a girl standing high up on some scaffolding do painstaking restoration work. Now, there’s an idea for a character…

What else?

There are the shops that sell tapestries and lace,

shops that are just about Christmas – all year round,

a market building where I can’t remember the name…Vismarkt?

and enough architecture, art, history, and dreamy canals to keep anyone interested.

The problem is, lots of other people know about Brugge’s beauty and the streets are mobbed in summer and on weekends. Come in the off-season, or midweek – as we did – and avoid the crowds.

 

 

 

 

La Grand Tour of France

Morning mist in Burgundy

After three fabulous weeks in France we arrived home last night – exhausted. We’ve crammed a lot into our time away and come back richer for the experience.

On the road-trip leg of our holiday, we travelled over 3000 kms – from Lille into Belgium, the Netherlands, down to Champagne, Burgundy, Lyon, the Loire Valley, and finally to Paris.

I put my Fitbit back on for the trip, and we racked up a massive 238,900 steps. Given that my 5km morning walks usually measure out at just under 5000 steps, that’s an awful lot of kilometres walked.

We consumed about the same number of litres of wine as kms that we walked…ok, a slight exaggeration…and almost as much again in baguettes and cheese.

We visited about a hundred churches (another slight exaggeration), took more photos than I have time to download at the moment, and bought a daggy tea-towel at every stage of the journey.

We also learnt a lot about France, it’s foods, it’s culture, and it’s quirks – and that is, I think, the best part about staying and travelling with friends and talking to a number of expats. Aside from the laughs and the company, you learn about a country from those who live there.

I’ll be posting more about each region over the next few weeks, but for now here are some of our observations. Settle in…this is a loooong post.

About France

1. France is an absolute contradiction – on the one hand, there’s a formality and structure about things we’re quite laid back about, and on the other, there’s chaos and disregard for many things that we’d consider necessary here in Australia. I’d love a euro for the number of times I heard expats say something like ‘it makes no sense, but it’s how it is.’ It might be frustrating to live with, but I love it.

2. France is pretty much closed on a Monday – so check the opening hours of shops and museums. It’s a weird feeling hitting a village at 1 pm and finding the streets deserted.

3. France pretty much closes for lunch – between 12 – 2 pm. That includes banks, post offices and even police stations in regional areas.

5. You can often park for free between 12 and 2 pm – the parking inspectors are at lunch.

6. Meetings aren’t booked between 12 and 2 pm – business interferes with digestion.

7. French workers don’t tend to run errands at lunchtime – they sit down or go home to eat. Besides, most services are closed anyway.

8. Other than for essential deliveries, trucks are off the road on Sundays (and public holidays). Sunday is still considered the family day.

9. France, in general, is not really disability friendly. Many places – especially in regional France – are not wheelchair accessible.

10. There are also a lot of stairs and not many places with lifts – one of the reasons, I suspect, that French women don’t get fat.

11. Merely adding “le” to the start of a word doesn’t make it French.

12. You can make yourself understood with a few basic French words – the effort is usually appreciated.

13. There is history everywhere.

About Food

1. The French sit down to eat – or stand at a bar. You rarely see locals walking along drinking coffee and eating a croissant from a bag.

2. Lunch is lunch, dinner is dinner, and you don’t eat in between – unless you’re a child.

3. Nothing interferes with lunch – especially not work. Besides, some workers even have restaurant vouchers in their packages. Now that’s civilised.

4. The French really do buy their baguettes daily and really do offer bread at each meal. Weirdly, butter is only offered at breakfast or if you’ve ordered oysters. No, I haven’t figured that one out either.

5. Most supermarkets don’t have chocolates, cold drinks or other snacks at the check-out – if you want these products you need to get them from the aisle. This is not a bad thing.

6. France will never need to spend euros on a buy local program – why would you want to eat (or drink) from anywhere else?

7. Wine is sipped and savoured and often served in small glasses.

8. Cheese is sliced into small portions and often eaten with a knife and fork. It’s can be served with baguette, but not crackers – which are difficult to find in a supermarket. Also, it doesn’t get eaten before a meal, but after it – before dessert (if a dessert is being served) or instead of dessert.

9. Dips are not really a thing. You can usually get hummus, taramasalata and tzatziki from the deli in the supermarket – but see above comments re crackers.

10. The French drink very little fresh milk, and most take their coffee and tea black. They do, however, eat a lot of yoghurts – most of which comes in little portion controlled glass yoghurt pots.

11. Salads are not necessarily a light option and are always perfectly dressed.

12. The French like to talk about food all the time – but especially when they’re eating. My kind of people.

13. You can eat really well for not a lot of euros – even in Paris. Many places have a two or three-course special that is great value.

14. Unlike here, house wine is a good choice – and tends to showcase a region and the restaurant you’re eating in.

15. In many cases you can’t just rock on up to a cellar door for a tasting – many places require these to be booked and often involve a tour.

16. Done well, escargots (snails) are yummy. The garlic butter and parsley sauce with baguette is even yummier.

17. Each region has its specialities – and these are absolutely worth seeking out. Except for andouilettes in Burgundy and (especially) in Lyon. There is no excuse for these.

18. The cheeses are incredible.

19. Shop windows contain airborne calories – and the patisserie really is fabulous…even for this non-sweet lover. As for artisan chocolates – don’t get me started.

20. Especially in regional France, the food on offer is French or the cuisine of that particular region. There is an exception to this rule for Italian food – which seems to be the universal cuisine.

21. Spice is unheard of. We were craving a decent dose of chilli.

22. Some food hygiene things that we take for granted aren’t considered a problem. As an example, on more than one occasion we saw cooked cold meats and charcuterie displayed in the same space as raw meats – and served by the same gloves that had just finished cutting raw meat.

About art and cultural stuff

1. You don’t need to go to museums to see great art.

2. Churches are full of incredible art – and not just on the walls. The windows took my breath away. Reims Cathedral has a Chagall stained glass window that I could have stared at for hours.

3. There are a lot of churches and each of them is different and awe-inspiring in their own way.

the cathedral at Epernay

4. Wineries often have great art.

a sculpture at Moet et Chandon

5. The French nobility seemed to do little more than pose for paintings and sculptures.

6. The chateaus of the Loire really are that big – and that ostentatious. It’s no wonder they had a revolution.

7. There really is such a disorder as chateau fatigue.

8. The Spring flowers and blossoms need to be seen to be believed.

 

 

 

L is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

L is for Lyon

We’ll be in Lyon later this month and there’s so much about the place that’s already firing my imagination. Sit back while I weave the beginnings of a tale…

If you were to look at a satellite image of Lyon – which you’re probably not inclined to do but please, go with me on this – you’d see a few streets running parallel to the river but not many side streets connecting them that actually run down to the river.

This isn’t a problem if you’re a tourist – so you have to walk an extra 200m, what of it? But it is a problem if you’re a 15th-century silk trader and you’re carrying heavy bolts of fabulously precious silk.

Ok, I’m going to stop right there for a second as the image and the idea develops – 15th century and silk trade.

So, you’re a 15th-century silk trader carrying heavy fabric and you need to get to the river quickly…what do you do? You start to take shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways to get your precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa. That’s what you do.

We now know this network of passageways as traboules – a word that comes from the Latin trans ambulare which means “to cross” – and Lyon has hundreds of these.

Another pause while we picture this – 15th century, silk traders, a network of passageways to the river and a waiting cargo ship. The colour of the silk striking against the murkiness of the candlelit passageways. Yep, the image and the idea is beginning to get clearer. I’m thinking smuggling and other dark deeds…

Right, back to the history. Although these alleys were associated with the silk traders in that the traboules kept the fabric dry as well as provided a convenient shortcut, they’ve been in Lyon at least since the 4th century.

You see, back in the day, Lyon was a bit of a poster child for the Roman Empire. Signs of this are still around – with the structures apparently still quite impressive. I’ll let you know after we visit them.  It makes you wonder what the Romans knew about building back then?

But I digress. Lyon was important  – or Lugdunum as they called it, which doesn’t have quite the same ring as Lyon – partly because it was a handy stop-over point, but mostly because it has two rivers. The Rhone curves through the centre of Lyon as does the Saone.

Anyways, once the Romans reluctantly left town, the aqueducts bringing water to the city started to fail – a little like an iPhone at the end of its warranty. People started building closer to the river and the first traboules were built around this time to allow people to get from their homes to the water quicker.  Yeah, not much of a story there – I think I’ll stay with the 15th-century silk traders.

These silk workers, known as canuts had to eat… so let’s move forward a couple of hundred years to the 17th and 18th century to talk about the other thing I’m looking forward to in Lyon – les bouchons.

The Bouchon is a restaurant serving Lyonnaise cuisine – which is heavily meat-based and does, shall we say, use the whole of the animal.

These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses. I’m beginning to see another strand of a potential story and I haven’t even visited yet!

Then there’s the tradition of machon (the a has a little upside down triangle over it). This is pretty much charcuterie and all bits porky served with pots of Beaujolais in the early morning.  The silk weavers – or canuts – of La Croix-Rousse would all get together to share these meals at dawn after they finished work. My kind of breakfast.

Tired and down-trodden silk workers, hungry bellies, pork and litres of red wine before the sun is properly up – I’m seeing the perfect environment for the hatching of dastardly plans.

Maybe there’s a way of making this trip tax deductible after all…


It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, Debbish, Seize the Day Project, Write of the Middle, 50 Shades of Age, and, of course, me.

Feel free to link up a post that reflects what you’re lovin’ about life. All bloggers are welcome! Fashion, food, beauty, business, personal, parenting … whatever …

Make sure you click on some of the Lovin’ Life links below and see what else is in the blogosphere. So much to love …


Tour de France…

Unless you’re one of the handful of people I haven’t mentioned this to, I’m off to France in just over two weeks…and I can’t wait.

This will be the first holiday since I can’t remember how many years when I haven’t taken my laptop to keep up with blogs or to finish freelance jobs. I’ll post to Instagram when we find free wi-fi. In the meantime, I have a heap of posts that I’ve scheduled through April for my A-Z of Books and Writing…more on that over the weekend.

I have some ideas for potential stories, so will be recording pretty much everything in my journal. Naturally I’ll blog heaps once I’m home in May.

Anyways, we’re doing a road trip that is about as close to Le Tour as I’ll ever get – given that I’m not into cycling. In the spirit of Le Tour (note how I’m throwing some French terms in?) I’ve divided our trip into stages. And the pics? They’ve all come from Instagram – other people’s pages.

Stage 1: Lille and Western Flanders

We’re starting our tour in Lille, in northwestern France – about as close to the Belgium border as you can be without being in Belgium. It also happens to be where the friend we’ll be road-tripping lives.

Here we’ll be checking out all things Flemish. There’s an old town to explore – Vieux Lille – and it’s a quick drive across the border to Bruges and the Somme and Ypres.

What am I most looking forward to on this leg aside from catching up with my friend? Bruges and moules et frites – ie mussels and chips…oh, and Belgian beer.

Stage 2 – Champagne

This is where our road trip really begins. We’ll be exploring Reims and Epernay. I’d also like to get down to Troyes and maybe even Renoir’s Essoyes.

We’ll be checking out vineyards and caves – the type they keep champagne in, not the underground ones that make me claustrophobic – and possibly even sampling a drop or three.

The Air B&Bs that we’re staying at are both run by chefs so we’re taking the opportunity of doing a chef’s table dinner at each.

We’ve also booked a Moet et Chandon tour. I can’t promise not to do the Eddy and Patsy thing though. Luckily hubby will be there to pick up the pieces.

Stage 3 –  Burgundy

there’s some Lyon photos in this montage…

Yes, there is a wine and food theme running through this trip.

We’ll be doing an all-day cooking class in Dijon – that’s where the mustard comes from – exploring Beaune and Dijon and checking out some of the countryside and medieval villages. We could possibly also sip some more wine – the vineyards of the Cote d’Or are apparently spectacular.

I’m especially looking forward to the cooking class we have booked in Dijon. The emphasis is on market shopping and French home cooking and I have very high hopes.

Stage 4 – Lyon

Of course, I’m telling anyone who’ll listen that Lyon is a city named after me – my maiden name is Lyons. Ok, so it’s not true. Lyon, though, is a foodie paradise. We’re staying in the old part of town and have a foodie walking tour booked.

We’ll also be checking out the markets or Les Halles de Lyon. Also on the list is a genuine bouchon or two. A bouchon is similar to a bistro, but one that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine – which is quite piggy in emphasis and nose to tail in technique. I can’t wait.

Stage 5 – The Loire Valley

We have four nights here to check out the chateaux, the countryside, maybe even taste a drop, and explore Orleans and Tours and some of the gorgeous villages in this part of France.

As yet we haven’t narrowed the list of chateaux down to the ones we really want to see, but Chemonceau and Villiers are on my list.

Our accommodation does a Chef’s Table on Saturday night, so we’re looking forward to that too.

Stage 6 – Paris

Hubby and I are staying on to finish our trip in Paris while F goes home to Lille. We’re staying in Le Marais – the Jewish Quarter – and have great plans to walk and walk and walk.

What else do we have planned for Paris? Nothing. We’re going to see how the mood and the spirit takes us.

We did the whole Tour de Eiffel thing when we were here twenty years ago and I don’t believe (the Tower) has changed that much. I also spent an afternoon in the Louvre that trip and would like to instead have a look at the Musee d’Orsay this time.

On the list for exploration is Montmartre, Pere Lachaise Cemetary, Montparnasse and some of the back streets. I also need to find a bowl of the spaghetti bolognaise that my geographically challenged daughter is convinced comes from Paris. When I think of the money we spent on school fees…

t’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

Melbourne…

If you’re a regular reader you’d know that Melbourne is my favourite city in Australia. Sorry, Sydney – you’re flashy and all that, but just a little too obvious…if you know what I mean.

Melbourne though…I’ve (so far) set three books in this fabulous city, with another underway. All of that writing needs research – one weekend at a time.

Oh, and a warning…we mostly ate!

Where we stayed…

Up the Paris end of Collins Street at the Sofitel Hotel. It’s a gorgeous hotel in a fabulous location. There are absolutely cheaper places to stay, but the Sofitel is worth it if you feel like spoiling yourself.

Where we shopped…

St Collins Lane, Melbourne

Ok, I’ve talked a bit about Melbourne’s markets in previous posts, but this trip all we came back with was kitchenware and bras…yes, really.

The Chef’s Hat in South Melbourne is the most fabulous kitchenware emporium – there is no other word for it – that I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. Oh my, did we spend up.  Even a paella pan found it’s way back into our luggage.

one of the floral arrangements on the counter at Debenhams

Melbourne now has a Debenhams – one of my fave British department stores – in St Collins Lane. Aside from having a great range of brands, and an amazing fragrance counter, their own brand bras are seriously the most comfy I’ve ever worn…just saying. Sadly I had a blow-out of the underwire kind on Sunday morning so had to make a mercy dash. There’s no truth to the rumour that I helped it – the wire, that is – on its way.

Street art…

South Melbourne Dimmies…

Ok, these are a Melbourne classic. First a lesson – a dim sim is not actually Chinese. It is instead a Chinese inspired snack and was probably invented in Australia in the late 1920s – the modern version can actually be traced back to Melbourne Chinatown…don’t say that you don’t learn anything from this blog. As an aside, dim sum refers to the dumplings and other small plates served at yum cha. Much like tapas refers to the small plates served, well, tapas style.

Anyways, now that I’ve cleared up that confusion, the dim sim, or dimmie for short, is almost like what would happen if a shumai hooked up with a chiko roll and was shaped like a cricket ball…or, as my friend put it, it’s like a Chinese sausage roll.

And the South Melbourne dimmie is the king of them all. In fact, they’ve been selling dimmies at South Melbourne markets since 1949.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you’re in South Melbourne markets you have to try one. That’s why.

Being Melbourne, though, if you’re after something a tad more substantial and, let’s face it, more tasty than a dimmie, there’s plenty of choices…like this paella…how good does this look?

Dumplings

It’s one thing I absolutely crave since moving to the Sunshine Coast – you just can’t get good dumplings…so we made up for that with these ones as a mid-afternoon snack on Friday

and these ones for lunch at Hutong on Saturday. Pan-fried and steamed soupy fabulousness.

Craving satisfied…for now…

More Street Art…

And if you’re wondering about the Saint Peter reference it’s a song from 1976 by an Aussie Band called Flash and The Pan. One of the band members, George Young died last year – hence the caption.

To start the day…

It was back to a couple of favourites. I go to Cumulus Inc – at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane – just for their crumpets, house-made ricotta and rooftop honey. Of course, they have other things on the menu, but it’s the crumpets I want.

On Sunday morning we made the trek all the way down the other end of Flinders Lane to Grain Store. I tried their egg sundae – something that really messed with my head but in quite a pretty way.

Something French…

Because we’re going to France in a few weeks – I have mentioned that haven’t I? – we had to go to a French Bistro in Melbourne. And the one we chose is Chez Olivier in Prahran.

It’s everything a neighbourhood bistro should be – style without pretension…and great food.

Something Indian

Saturday night was at Tonka – modern Indian with a really cool ceiling display.

This restaurant is described as being “modern Indian”, but you’d be right in thinking that it doesn’t look like a curry you’d get at your local takeaway. This is Indian with a light and very up to date touch. The curries are still good, but it’s so much more than that.

And finally…some more street art…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Fraser Island

Lake Mackenzie
Lake Mackenzie

The last time we came to Fraser Island was in May 1994 – a day trip from Surfers Paradise where we’d been honeymooning. Yes, that long ago.

I remember bits and pieces from that day. I remember the guide telling us that rubbing our jewellery in the pure sands of Lake Mackenzie would restore them to sparkling glory and I remember how I was thinking smugly just how bright and shining my week old wedding ring was. I remember the green of Central Station and I remember how terribly long the day was. Mostly, though, I remember thinking how much I wanted to come back and stay for a few days.

Since we’ve been in Queensland I’ve had fantasies about camping and four-wheel-driving up there – forgetting that:

  • I don’t really like camping
  • we have no camping equipment
  • Our RAV4 is not exactly equipped for serious off-road

Instead, we booked a mini stay at Kingfisher Bay Resort – and a 4WD Beauty Spots tour with Fraser Explorer Tours. After seeing the softness of the sand and the number of people in real 4WDs who were running into trouble in it, we definitely made the right decision.

Lake Mackenzie

The photos of this place on Instagram are amazing (check it out at #lakemackenzie) and although we weren’t lucky enough to have a clear shot of the lake as isolated as it is in those shots, it’s still mighty beautiful.

Lake Mackenzie is a perch lake – so called because the lake is “perched” on top of a sand dune. There’s no water source into or out of the lake – it exists purely on rainfall.

The water is held in place by a waterproof lining of decayed plant matter that has settled over many thousands of years. What’s even more fascinating is that there are only 80 or so of these perch lakes on the planet – and 42 of them are on Fraser Island.

The water is slightly acidic and the sand is white. It’s so clear that you can easily see the colour gradients as the depth increases.

Central Station

Fraser Island was heavily logged from the 1860s (when the originally gazetted status of Aboriginal reserve was revoked) until the early 1990s.

For a time, a thriving logging community was at Central Station. Nothing remains of that today.

We took a short walk through the valley, following one of the silently flowing creeks back to its sandy source. Speaking of which, the sand acts as a giant sponge – and filter. Rainwater is stored in the dunes, and gradually pushed downward and squeezed out by the pressure of the sand. What emerges is clear, fresh water.

The Pinnacles

The coloured sands of The Pinnacles have been formed by minerals leaching from the sands over hundreds of thousands of years.

pic by John

Of course, the Aboriginals have a much more interesting story about how the sands were formed. Their story is one of love and a rainbow serpent:

(It) tells of Wuru who was promised to an older man Winyer but fell in love with Wiberigan (the rainbow).  The older man threatened revenge after witnessing Wuru visiting Wiberigan on a daily basis.  Seeing her alone one day he chased and threw his boomerang at her..calling for Wiberigan help he stood in front of her and the boomerang of Winyer shattered the rainbow which spilled colour into the sand cliffs of the area.  Wuru escaped unharmed leading to the women of the Butchulla tribe believing that the coloured sands gave them luck that day.

The Wreck of the Maheno

The SS Maheno was on its way to a Japanese wrecking yard when it ran aground in a cyclone in 1935. It’s been on the beach here ever since. If you want to know more about the history of the Maheno, you can read about it here.

The back is a tad messy from where it was used for bombing practice in WW2, but that just makes it even more photogenic.

Eli Creek

Eli Creek is the largest of the free-flowing creeks on Fraser Island and pours up to four million litres of clear water into the ocean every hour. Yep, you read those numbers right. The same temperature (ie cold) all year round, the current is so strong that the best thing to do is follow the boardwalk upstream and then float down.

The day we were there (the last Saturday in December) it was seriously mobbed. So many 4WDs, so many people, so many flamingo and unicorn floats. I languished in the cool water so took no photos, these ones are courtesy of randoms from Instagram – obviously taken on a day much less busy than when we were there!

Where we stayed

There are two resorts on the island – Eurong Beach Resort (on the Western side of the island and accessed from Rainbow Beach) and Kingfisher Bay Resort (on the Eastern side accessed from River Heads). Other than that, there are also plenty of places to camp.

We stayed at Kingfisher Bay Resort in hotel style rooms overlooking the lagoon. I’ve always wanted to stay here and absolutely wasn’t disappointed. Our room had tea and coffee making facilities, but we brought a picnic bag and esky with us in the car and made our own brekky etc in the room. (Foot passengers are restricted to the amount of luggage they can bring in.)

The resort does have some self-catering villas – which we’d probably look at next time – and there’s a general store selling basic produce and supplies. Prices are inflated – mainly because we are on an island and everything has to be brought in by barge. There’s also a don’t miss photo gallery – a fab shot of Lake Mackenzie is now on our wall.

There are a few restaurants attached to the resort – although given the crowds and the time of year we were there (between Christmas and New Year) it would be unfair of me to review any of them. I’m sure that the food, the perceived value and the experience is different outside of peak times when both the crowds, the heat and the cost is inflated.

Getting there

…is half the fun. We brought the car over on the barge from River Heads – which is 20km south of Hervey Bay. It’s an easy 50-minute crossing, but a tad weird how you drive off onto the long and narrow jetty. The barge takes both cars and foot passengers and can be booked via the resort. We also checked into the hotel at River Heads – something that meant on arrival all we needed to do was pick up our keys and hit the pool.

The verdict?

We’ll be back – but preferably in the off-season when it’s cooler and quieter…and with a real 4WD to explore some more.

Have you ever been to Fraser Island? If so, what was your experience?

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


The Travel Quiz

Thanks to Katherine from Bright Lights of America for this idea… You can check out her Couple’s Travel Quiz here.

We love to travel together, but no matter how close you are or how long you’ve been together, travelling together can be both a rewarding experience and a potential minefield.

Over the last 28 or so years we’ve learnt a lot about how to get the most out of a trip by respecting each other’s travel personalities:

  • We both need time apart as well as time together
  • I like to be by a pool or on a beach – even if I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time there – and he doesn’t
  • He likes to have a tv in the room and I don’t
  • I like art galleries and museums and he doesn’t
  • He likes to shop and I don’t
  • I don’t like to overindulge at breakfast because I don’t want to miss out on lunch – he’d prefer to have a big breakfast and manage with a snack at lunchtime
  • I like to get to an airport, do the check-in thing and sit down with a drink and a book to wait. He doesn’t like to get there early and once checked in will then want to chat about pretty much nothing – while I’m trying to zone out.
  • We both enjoy foodie walking tours
  • We both enjoy wandering and ending up somewhere we didn’t expect to
  • We both enjoy road trips
  • We both love produce markets
  • We both enjoy street food but will book one “special” night out each trip

Fortunately, he’s happy to people watch if I want to do the museum thing, and I’m happy to read if he wants to watch tv. We’re cool about each other’s personal space and as a result, he’s still my favourite person to travel with – even though he does do my head in at airports.

Where are you likely to find your partner in a new city you’ve travelled to?

Grant – Absolutely not in the shops or on the high street. I’d find her in a slightly edgy or grungey coffee shop with her journal. Probably somewhere with street art.

Jo – Sitting in a park watching the world go by…or waiting for me to take a photo or finish in a gallery or museum.

What’s the first thing your partner does in a new city?

G – Take to the streets on a walking tour. She hates those introductory city tours where at the end they take you to one of those gem/batik/craft/whatever stores. She has no tolerance for that.

J – Whatever walking tour I’ve booked us on.

What is your partner’s travelling downfall?

G – She’s so paranoid about missing planes that she’s always way too early. She’s a control freak and doesn’t trust bookings she hasn’t made herself.

J – He’s a “just in time” man and doesn’t allow for local traffic conditions. He tends to start getting ready at the time we need to be leaving. He worries more about the budget than I do – both a plus and a minus. He doesn’t really like to change destinations if it involves another flight.

What is your partner’s travelling personality?

G – She likes to have transport and accommodation organised, and a list of other things researched but likes to wander and have lots of unplanned time.

J – It’s about the people and culture for him. He likes to get under the skin of a place. He doesn’t like a fixed schedule and wants to be able to spend as long as he wants if it’s somewhere that’s interesting.

Why does your partner like to travel?

G – For the experiences.

J – For the culture.

What is the most fun about travelling with your partner?

G – She can laugh at nearly anything and likes to wander. She’s organised, but not restrictive with it. She doesn’t mind doing things on her own if I’m not interested in it.

J – He’s happy to do whatever I decide usually – or wait while I do it if he’s not interested. He’ll try anything.

What is the place your partner most wants to travel to?

G – I can’t answer that – she has a list that changes all the time. Probably wherever she’s booked to go next. Seriously though, it’s easier to talk about places that aren’t on her list. There are also lots of places she wants to go back to and explore more deeply.

J – He’d love to do a Cunard cruise out of Southampton. One that goes through the Suez or Panama Canal. He’d love to see the Northern Lights and would like to go to St Petersburg.

What is the place your partner least wants to travel to?

G – Probably the Middle East or anywhere where she feels her freedoms are limited or there are too many rules she has to abide by – or where she feels that she can’t go into a bar on her own and have a drink if she wanted to do that. She doesn’t have a burning desire to go to Africa either.

J – He’s not interested in South America, the South Pacific or any of the walks I want to do. His idea of travel hell is an isolated resort, “honeymoon” style islands, gated communities – anywhere advertising seclusion or luxurious privacy. he’s not a villa type of man.

What is your partner’s favourite part of a new country?

G – The photo opportunities. I sometimes joke that I’m on holiday with Jo and her camera. And the food.

J – The people watching and local street food. He’s not interested in how the wealthy live or eat – it’s about everyday life and food for him. He likes supermarkets – so he can see what the cost of living is.

What is your partner’s most annoying habit at the dinner table while travelling?

G – She has to take a photo of everything she eats and drinks.

J – Just choose what you want to eat already – it’s not that hard!

What does your partner dislike about travelling?

G – The crowds – she hates crowds. She also doesn’t like anything that’s too pristine or glitzy or non-inclusive and she doesn’t like feeling as though she’s controlled or heavily scheduled. She’s not big on the clichéd attractions or eating at places just because of a celebrity tag – she’s a bit of a reverse snob. Oh, and she hates queueing.

J – Hanging about airports and getting to airports

What is your partner’s travel superpower?

G – The planning and research she puts in. She has a knack for finding things that aren’t in the Lonely Planet Guide.

J – He can pack a suitcase and have it look the same when it’s opened as it did when he shut it. He also knows what’s going on around him – spatial awareness. He makes me feel safe.

How did we go? We got each other’s answers spot on. Why not try it for yourself with your travel partner?


It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

Store display in Fortnum & Masons

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been playing the remember when game here in Chez Tracey. You see it’s two years since we were on our mega roadtrip around the UK, and every day another memory is popping up on the Timehop app on my phone.

One of the strongest memories we all have of that trip is just how much we enjoyed the lead up to Christmas over there. Especially in London. It was somehow more, I don’t know, how I’d imagined that Christmas would be.

It wasn’t just that it was grey and cold, or dark so early, it was also the smells, the lights, the decorations, the…you know what? I think I’ll need to list them all…

The Christmas markets

We were debating the other day which one we enjoyed the most – the one in Edinburgh with the carousel bar, or the one in London along Southbank…or maybe the one in Bath?

Edinburgh Christmas markets
Edinburgh Christmas Markets

One thing we all agree on is that the best part of the markets was the mulled wine and yummy things – and all the Christmas jumpers.

Christmas jumpers

at Notting Hill market

They really are a thing. There’s even a “wear your Christmas jumper to work day” day. Sarah bought 2 jumpers – which she actually does wear at Christmas…with the air conditioning going, of course. She really wishes she’d bought this one.

It’s not just about wearing Christmas sweaters though, check out this guy who had a whole suit made from Christmas themed fabric.

The ads

Oh how we loved the Christmassy ads. It wasn’t just the fabulous ads the major department stores do, but the ones you’d see on the Tube that would have you singing the tune with all the wrong words.

And my favourite? This one for Mamma Mia.

The store windows

So so so gloriously, luxuriously, decadently seasonal.

And then you step inside the store. Words and pictures just can’t convey how it feels to walk into these stores. It’s completely overwhelming.

As for the money that some people spend on things, well, that’s just ludicrous. We had a competition in Fortnum and Masons to find the most expensive pack of Christmas crackers. The ones in the pic below were 1000GBP – and not a paper hat or daggy joke in sight. Speaking of which, what do you call 50 penguins in Trafalgar Square? Lost.

The thing is, there’s only 6 crackers in this box and if you can afford to spend this on crackers, I’d like to bet that you’re having more than 6 people for Christmas lunch…just saying.

Then there was this heirloom advent calendar that for a ridiculous amount of cash you could pass down through generations of silver spoon-fed little darlings.

The lights and street decorations

Covent Garden

London does this well…really well.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of AgeLifestyle Fifty  and, of course, me.