Avignon and Geneva

We stayed in a lovely 15th century Airbnb in Avignon that had been completely renovated and modernized , whilst keeping the medieval beams and old charm. It was a short walk to the Palais des Papes and everything we wanted to see.

Although the staircase to the bedroom had charm…it was a bit intimidating!

Avignon was charming. The old city walls, Roman ruins, medieval alleyways…we loved it.

We then traveled by train to Geneva, Switzerland. We had one day to explore before our flight home and we tried to fit in as much as we could. We strolled through the old town, did a boat tour on Lac Lemon, and did lots and lots of walking. Geneva is lovely.

That large chateau is (one of) the Rothschild estate(s)

Dijon

We took a train from Strasbourg to Dijon (about 3 hours, with stops).

Dijon is beautiful. Our Airbnb (which was fabulous, by the way…an apartment connected to a hotel) was right around the corner from the Palais des Ducs – the home of the Dukes of Burgundy (very rich and very powerful).

Nice digs for the dukes, right?

We loved walking around on the old cobblestone streets, exploring, shopping (Dijon!), visiting museums, and eating (we had to try beef bourguignon in Burgandy!)

We also did a wine tour and drove through some of the villages near Dijon and past lots and lots of vineyards.

This vineyard is enclosed (le clos) by a wall dating back to the 14th century

The Côte de Nuits is a French wine region located in the northern part of the Côte d’Or, the limestone ridge that is at the heart of the Burgundy wine region. It extends from Dijon to just south of Nuits-Saint-Georges, which gives its name to the district and is the regional center.
Clos de Vougeot, also known as Clos Vougeot, is a wall-enclosed vineyard, a clos, in the Burgundy wine region, and an Appellation d’origine contrôlée for red wine from this vineyard.

The Clos de Vougeot vineyard was created by Cistercian monks. The land making up the vineyard was purchased by the Cistercians, or donated to them, from the 12th century to the early 14th century. The initial vineyard consisted of donations in 1109 to 1115. The vineyard was complete, and a wall had been built around it, by the year 1336. It served as the flagship vineyard of the Cistercians, and has been a highly recognised name for centuries.

The wine presses were designed by the monks and date back to the 15th century

We then drove to a more modern winemaking facility where we learned about the modern process (not much different than the ancient methods) and got to taste a few local wines 🍷…

Many of the Côte de Nuits vineyards have crosses…this dates back to when the monks controlled the vineyards
We also saw several cemeteries right smack in the middle of vineyards, which struck us as rather odd, but is apparently just the way it’s done here!

Our final day in Dijon was spent wandering and soaking up the cool Dijon vibes.

Frankfurt & Strasbourg

We flew into Frankfurt for a myriad of reasons, most specifically because we (finally) got on (the last 2 seats!) the late flight out of Jacksonville and so the late Frankfurt flight was the only connection we could make. Also, there were seats available on the Frankfurt flight.

We packed a lot into our one day in Frankfurt; we strolled through Ramsburg Square, took a sightseeing boat trip, and visited the Städel Museum (which was wonderful!) It’s a smaller museum with some works by Rembrandt, Botticelli, Rubens…and you can walk right up to them and inspect the brushstrokes and details. Just don’t, for example, try to point something out to your husband and point at a painting and let your hand get within 6 inches of it. You might set off an alarm and be very embarrassed. Hypothetically, of course.

Eating frankfurters in Frankfurt, as one does.

We spent one day in Frankfurt and then got on a train to Strasbourg, France. (Hallelujah for the ease, efficiency, and affordability of train travel in Europe!)

We loved Strasbourg…it was like a fairytale village. Sadly, it was rainy and gloomy most of our time there, but that didn’t dim the quaint, medieval vibes of the magical place.

Brussels and Tournai

Our last two days in Belgium were spent in Brussels and Tournai. We took the train from Bruges to Brussels and got a hotel near the train station. Since we had an early flight out we wanted to be closer to the airport. Once we arrived, we walked around the Grand Place, ate, and of course we had a beer.

There’s a place down one of the side alleys from Grand Place, called Plaka, that makes the BEST gyros.

The next morning, our final day in Belgium, we got up and took a train into Tournai, about an hour away. Tournai is in the region called Wallonia near the French border. Tournai was one of the main creators of tapestries during the Middle Ages and when I read that they had a tapestry museum I really wanted to visit. (Side note: I have been intrigued by the method of creating medieval tapestries since seeing The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris several years ago (amazing! Go see them if you have the chance) and reading The Lady and the Unicorn and The Seventh Unicorn)

We passed lots and lots of windmills. Amazingly, I didn’t see a single dead bird piled up beneath them. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Tournai’s belfry dates from the 12th century and is the oldest belfry in Belgium.

Tournai is the only Belgian city to have been controlled by the British throne (Henry VIII in 1513). It has changed hands several times; it was important in Roman times, then seized by the Franks in the 5th century (the birthplace of Frankish King Clovis) and was a Bishop’s see in the early 6th century, it was controlled by the counts of Flanders until it was recovered by France in 1188, then Henry VIII in 1513 and returned again to France in 1518, the Netherlands in 1521, then a Spanish Habsburg province, then the Austrian Habsburgs in the 18th century, and then back and forth between France and Austria.

We thought Tournai to be utterly charming. We might have been the only tourists in the town, which was so refreshing after the hordes of tourists in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. Everyone spoke French. No one spoke English, or very limited English. There weren’t English translations on the menus or street signs or museum displays. This might bother some, but we loved it. (Apparently I still retain enough of my high school French to be able to communicate (together with hand gestures, ha!) and decipher menus.)

We finally located the Tapestry Museum

I was disappointed in the Tapestry Museum. They had a few medieval tapestries and an old loom, which was interesting. None of the tapestries were as intricate and beautiful as The Lady and Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum in Paris, or even the Vatican Museum in Italy. I didn’t mind that the placards were just in French and Dutch. I was just disappointed at how limited the displays were. My favorite thing in the museum was a series of maps…

USA = BOUFFENT DES BURGERS 😂
FLORIDA = TOURISTES, GOLF, RETIREES, ALLIGATORS 😂
Hotel De Ville

In spite of the disappointment of the Tapestry Museum, we adored Tournai. Wandering around and exploring, enjoying the challenges of navigating with…language challenges. It was a fun and relaxing day. We were sorry not to have been able to see the inside of their Cathedral of Notre Dame (11-12th century basilica and UNESCO world heritage site) that was undergoing renovations, nor the Pont Des Trous, a medieval bridge on the outskirts of the town which was originally part of the city wall. It was blown up during World War II and reconstructed.

Brussels and Tournai

Our last two days in Belgium were spent in Brussels and Tournai. We took the train from Bruges to Brussels and got a hotel near the train station. Since we had an early flight out we wanted to be closer to the airport. Once we arrived, we walked around the Grand Place, ate, and of course we had a beer.

There’s a place down one of the side alleys from Grand Place, called Plaka, that makes the BEST gyros.

The next morning, our final day in Belgium, we got up and took a train into Tournai, about an hour away. Tournai is in the region called Wallonia near the French border. Tournai was one of the main creators of tapestries during the Middle Ages and when I read that they had a tapestry museum I really wanted to visit. (Side note: I have been intrigued by the method of creating medieval tapestries since seeing The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris several years ago (amazing! Go see them if you have the chance) and reading The Lady and the Unicorn and The Seventh Unicorn)

We passed lots and lots of windmills. Amazingly, I didn’t see a single dead bird piled up beneath them. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Tournai’s belfry dates from the 12th century and is the oldest belfry in Belgium.

Tournai is the only Belgian city to have been controlled by the British throne (Henry VIII in 1513). It has changed hands several times; it was important in Roman times, then seized by the Franks in the 5th century (the birthplace of Frankish King Clovis) and was a Bishop’s see in the early 6th century, it was controlled by the counts of Flanders until it was recovered by France in 1188, then Henry VIII in 1513 and returned again to France in 1518, the Netherlands in 1521, then a Spanish Habsburg province, then the Austrian Habsburgs in the 18th century, and then back and forth between France and Austria.

We thought Tournai to be utterly charming. We might have been the only tourists in the town, which was so refreshing after the hordes of tourists in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. Everyone spoke French. No one spoke English, or very limited English. There weren’t English translations on the menus or street signs or museum displays. This might bother some, but we loved it. (Apparently I still retain enough of my high school French to be able to communicate (together with hand gestures, ha!) and decipher menus.)

We finally located the Tapestry Museum

I was disappointed in the Tapestry Museum. They had a few medieval tapestries and an old loom, which was interesting. None of the tapestries were as intricate and beautiful as The Lady and Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum in Paris, or even the Vatican Museum in Italy. I didn’t mind that the placards were just in French and Dutch. I was just disappointed at how limited the displays were. My favorite thing in the museum was a series of maps…

USA = BOUFFENT DES BURGERS 😂
FLORIDA = TOURISTES, GOLF, RETIREES, ALLIGATORS 😂
Hotel De Ville

In spite of the disappointment of the Tapestry Museum, we adored Tournai. Wandering around and exploring, enjoying the challenges of navigating with…language challenges. It was a fun and relaxing day. We were sorry not to have been able to see the inside of their Cathedral of Notre Dame (11-12th century basilica and UNESCO world heritage site) that was undergoing renovations, nor the Pont Des Trous, a medieval bridge on the outskirts of the town which was originally part of the city wall. It was blown up during World War II and reconstructed.

Rainy Day

Today was another cold, rainy day which was spent doing laundry (the reality of traveling with just a carry on bag), and then wandering around the markt, shopping, eating, drinking, and enjoying people watching. We came across some street performers and lots and lots of adorable pets – even an Old English Sheepdog and a bunny!

Ghent

Today was cold and rainy, but nevertheless we decided to go explore Ghent (a short 20 minute train ride away).

We went straight to Gravensteen Castle…

Fun! (Okay, maybe not the many, many steep, narrow, old stone spiral stairs. Those were NOT fun. They were a bit scary.) But the rest of the castle was fun, especially the audio tour (hilarious, especially the sound effects).

The cross window signifies that Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders (who built Gravensteen) went on crusade to the Holy Land.

Gravensteen was built in 1180 by the Count of Flanders, Philip of Alsace. The audio tour did a wonderful job of relating the history of the castle and of Flanders, along with many anecdotes from Philip’s life.

After touring the castle, we walked around Ghent and had lunch. And then then it started pouring and we stopped and had frites and a Stella (as one does). Ghent is beautiful and I wish we’d had better weather and been able to see more. Still, we had a great day, loved Ghent and really loved visiting Gravensteen.

In Bruges

After (almost) 3 years of pent up wanderlust, Tim and I have finally hit the road again. We decided to do a quick trip to Belgium, mostly because there were seats available.

The flight over was fine. Okay, honestly, it was noisy (imagine crying babies, screaming children, and lots of yapping and whining from little dogs) and so we didn’t get much (much=any) sleep. Then the customs line was slooooowwwwww. But we finally got on the train to Bruges!

By the time we arrived at our Airbnb in Bruges it was noon local time and we’d been up for 24 hours. We were exhausted…so we crashed for about 4 hours. We got up and walked to the market square (markt), ate dinner, had a beer, and just marveled at the fact that we were finally traveling again. Europe, we’ve missed you!

The next day we did the touristy things – a canal boat tour, and city bus tour…and then just walked around and explored and ate and drank. We learned a lot about the history of Bruges and saw swans and beautiful buildings and the sun was out.

This was the old city hospital. The arrow is pointing to where “ambulances” would drop off patients (by boat). In the lower right corner you can see the edge of a door which is where the dead were picked up.

A Chilly Graduation Trip

Back at the end of January and beginning of February Paige and I took a quick trip over to Edinburgh for a few days. Paige has always wanted to go, particularly because of all the Harry Potter related landmarks around the city, and since we were able to get on the flights and found a wonderful, historical Airbnb right in the Grassmarket by the castle…it seemed like a great, albeit really, really cold, time to go!

After arriving, we bundled up and hiked up to check out Edinburgh Castle. Then we wandered around Victoria Street (which was literally only about a 5 minute walk from our flat). Victoria Street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books…and we look wandering around the cute shops.

We also found Elephant House, and Spoon, where J. K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books…

Right there by Elephant House, in the same neighborhood, is the George Herriot School and Greyfriars Kirkyard. J. K. Rowling could see the Herriot School from Elephant House as she was writing, and it was the inspiration for Hogwarts. She would frequently take breaks and walk through Greyfriars, which also provided inspiration in the form of some familiar names….

We took a day trip to Stirling one day, and wandered around the town and toured the castle…

We also did a history-comedy-walking tour of Edinburgh…which was fantastic!

And finally, we toured Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Abbey. We walked around the Scott Monument, we traversed the Royal Mile, and explored Mary Kings Close. We shivered a lot, it’s true (we’re Florida girls!) but we loved every minute of our chilly Scottish, Harry Potter adventure!

When in Rome (part 2)

In part 1 of our Rome adventures, I briefly mentioned the hordes of tourists. I’ll mention them again, here. There were hordes of tourists in Rome. We did our best to avoid them, but it was time to take a deep breath and dive into the hordes. Because, when in Rome you have to…

Do the Coliseum…

And Roman Forum…

Rome, where you don’t take breaks on benches…but on toppled marble columns.

Circus Maximus

And Palatine Hill. (Only 30% of visitors to Rome visit the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill!)

The next day we really jumped into it. We went here…

We saw these guys…

And toured the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel, where we were not allowed to take photos, but…😍)

(I must have a tiny bit of a “floor fetish” because every single place we went in Italy I was obsessed with the fabulous, amazing, mosaic tile floors!)

The mosaic tile floors were incredible

Those peacocks are 1,900 years old

Flemish tapestry showing the assassination of Julius Caesar

The giant pinecone is 2000 years old!

The crowds though, y’all. While the Sistine Chapel was absolutely breathtaking and astounding, the crowds and the body odor and the pushing and….ugh. We shuffled along in the mass exodus….shuffling…shuffling…and eventually made our way to St. Peter’s.

I’d love to show photos of the Pieta. I’m sure St. Peter’s is an amazing church.

But I’m sorry to say that we shuffled along in that huge body of odiferous tourists, and walked into St Peter’s…

I quickly snapped this photo, said, “yeah, yeah another church. This is freaking insane. Let’s get out of here.”

And we left.

And just like that, I was ALL OUT OF PATIENCE and I decided I DID NOT LIKE PEOPLE and OMG I HATE TOURISTS and WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS GET ME OUT OF HERE!

Then Tim fed me “lunch” (it was 4:30) and that helped, but I still am pretty much over tourists. I mean…really, y’all DON’T NEED TO PUSH!

Typical lunch for us- insalata!

On the way home that evening, we stopped off for a hot chocolate with a view!