Drive through Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and carpet of wild alpine blooms

Spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and carpet of wild alpine blooms

Many say that driving through the hairpin bends of Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the ultimate test for a good driver. There must be some truth to that because this road that goes up to about 3,798 meters above sea level through some 36 tricky bends and steep mountain cliffs is no laughing matter. It is a tall order to negotiate through such challenging conditions and not fall under the spell of amazing mountain sceneries that can make one lose focus which even for just a matter of seconds can be catastrophic.

We made two attempts at Grossglockner with the first one characterized by poor visibility. We were told that we could come back another time without paying the €33 toll fee. When the weather improved a few days later, we were back again and certainly it was worth the effort. The drive was exhilarating — what with the amazing sceneries of snow-capped mountains, scented pine forests, meadows blanketed with colorful alpine blooms, mountain tarns with turquoise colored glacial waters, waterfalls and culminating at the glacier that is Pasterze.

We brought our picnic basket with us and stopped by a nice picnic area close to a waterfall. Nothing can be far nicer than that, to have our meal in such a surrounding and savor all that beauty. Along the way was a restaurant with a lovely children’s playground and flower garden teeming with wild alpine blooms.

I’m looking forward to another trip up Grossglockner this summer. I am already imagining my little girl in her nice summer dress running around in that flower garden, picking a bloom or two to clip in her hair and singing the “Doe a dear” from her favorite movie, “The Sound of Music”.

Glacial mountain tarns

Glacial mountain tarns

Pine-scented forests, meadows carpeted in wild blooms and snow-capped mountain peaks

Pine-scented forests, meadows carpeted in wild blooms and snow-capped mountain peaks

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Our family

Our family

A tunnel

A tunnel

Inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel

A map of Grossglockner

A map of Grossglockner

Little Francesca at Grossglockner

Little Francesca at Grossglockner

Grossglockner

Grossglockner

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

At the children's playground:  "Let's go this way, Francesca."

At the children’s playground: “Let’s go this way, Francesca.”

"No, I go this way, Papa."

“No, I go this way, Papa.”

Beautiful garden of wild blooms

Beautiful garden of wild blooms

Lovely sign

Lovely sign

A butterfly

A butterfly

Forget-me-not blooms

Forget-me-not blooms

Alpine bloom

Alpine bloom

Some bugs

Some bugs

Alpine blooms

Alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

Mountain huts

Mountain huts

The Mr.

The Mr.

Hotel in Grossglockner

Hotel in Grossglockner

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Market day in Le Bugue

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

Open markets never fail to cast their charm on me and I won’t give them a miss if I can find one on any given day. Checking what are on offer from different stalls will make me lost my sense of time as my mind wanders off to what nice meals I can make from the many fresh produce that I can get my hands into. Unfortunately, I don’t have a big family to feed so I always have to try to control the urge to overbuy and overstock especially on those stuffs with limited shelf life.

When we arrived in Dordogne for the second half of our camping holiday, we got some info on what to do and see in the area. The suggestion of open markets in the nearby towns and cities came in handy especially as I was really looking so much forward to exploring a few during this holiday. The nearest to our camping was the town of Le Bugue, a 15-minute drive and where most times we will also get our groceries.

The open market in Le Bugue as compared to the open markets I’ve seen in the west of France has less seafoods and was more oriented to the produce of the land and wood crafts which was pretty understandable from a geographic perspective. We had a great time exploring this market, my little girl so especially loved the trinkets, toys and also the hat that we got her for protection from the strong sun. I enjoyed admiring the fresh vegetables and other food stuffs on offer as well as got myself a nice typical French basket which would later came handy when we get groceries or go on picnics.

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Admiring the trinkets

Admiring the trinkets

Trying out a hat

Trying out a hat

Checking out the toys

Checking out the toys

Wood-carved slingshots -- I played with them a lot as a child

Wood-carved slingshots — I played with them a lot as a child

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Bread stall

Bread stall

Stall for roast chicken

Stall for roast chicken

Artichokes

Artichokes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Radishes

Radishes

Paprikas

Paprikas

Red paprikas

Red paprikas

Green plums

Green plums

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Olives

Olives

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Olives

Olives

Black olives

Black olives

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Snails

Snails

Mussels

Mussels

Fish

Fish

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Got myself a French basket

Got myself a French basket

Camping life

Dinner time – our simple dinner fare consisted of rice, fried mackerel and salad

 

From the chateau to the tent — that’s many notches downgrade to our accommodation but we truly love going to the basics.  To our little girl, the tent is more fun than the chateau and she can do a trade-in anytime.  She was actually least happy at the chateau because the other guests were all senior people so aside from the dogs, she had no one to play with.  At the camp, she was in her best element having made friends easily with the other kids, notwithstanding the language barrier.

 

Dinner preparation — rice and fried mackerel

Fried mackerel

Fresh salad

Card game and warm drinks while waiting for the fresh bread that will be available at 8:30 am.

Sampling the croissant

Our little camper

At the camp playground with other children

Lots of fun between these two girls though one speaks Dutch and the other one is French

A friendship is born despite the language barrier

Two girls enjoying a beautiful friendship

These two girls tried table tennis but …. most times were busy picking the ball from the ground

Very determined table tennis players

Holiday at last

20120709-180025.jpg

After leaving a very wet Holland, we arrived in Normandy for an overnight stay in this lovely chateau just outside Alencon. Wonderful experience!

Pentecost weekend camping and castle hunting

The Nijenhuis Castle

I take a bit of a break from my Tuscany series and bring back a bit of Dutch flavor to my post.

Two weekends ago, we had this long weekend due to the observance of Pentecost. The Dutch may not be that religious but there are a few Church holidays where an extra day of holiday is observed the following day such as Christmas (Second Christmas Day), Easter (Second Easter Day) and Pentecost (Second Pentecost Day).

The Pentecost weekend had the best weather we ever saw this year with summery temperature that hit beyond 30 degrees Celsius. After the wet, grey and chilly spring, we were just so glad to finally be able to get rid of our coats and wear light clothing and to be able to enjoy sunshine to our hearts’ content. We opted to go camping and put to test the new tent which we were pretty curious to check out. Our old tent suffered irreparable from the mistral last year when we camped in the South of France.

We camped in Heidepark, Lemelerveld which was about an hour’s drive from our place. No special reason to choosing this camping place except that it was a good distance away from home and that there was also a pool which the little girl was so excited about.

I love combining such an adventure with castle hunting and in this country, it is not impossible to find a castle that is within easy reach. The Nijenhuis Castle proved to be a good choice because it had a wonderful sculpture garden and amazing collection of contemporary Dutch art as well. The sculpture garden was a big hit with the little girl who found it a wonderful place to explore and simply perfect for hide-and-seek.

Father and daughter outside our tent

Improvised skipping rope game

Playground at the camping site

This rabbit from another tent charmed her straight away

The rabbit and the little girl

This little girl braved the chilly waters of this unheated pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Cold…brrrr….

The Nijenhuis Castle

Another angle of the castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The little girl enjoyed picking the little white daisies to make little bouquets

The little girl and the castle

The sculpture garden… the little girl and me were fascinated by the strange guy with the long moustache which was groomed in a very peculiar way

Father and daughter

Me behind the camera

Me and my little girl

Our family

Artwork at the sculpture garden turned plaything for the little girl

Perfect for climbing

The sculpture garden with the well-known piece of Queen Wilhelmina (grandmother of Queen Beatrix) in the distance

Our family

Our family

The little girl spent so much time coming up with leis made from flowers and twigs

Perfect place for running around and hide-and-seek

Rhododendrons in full bloom at the castle grounds

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendrons

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Lunch of tomato soup

and freshly baked breads

The charming village of Bormes les Mimosas

It’s another snowless winter day here in Holland so allow me to indulge in my memories of warm and sunny summer days. Let me take you to this lovely village that we stumbled upon on our holiday in the South of France in summer last year.

The medieval village of Bormes les Mimosas


It was my quest for open markets that led us to Bormes les Mimosas. Lonely Planet mentioned that there was an open market there on a Monday but that turned out to be incorrect. On hindsight, that was for the best as the open market would have distracted us from exploring this lovely Medieval village on the mountaintop with a commanding view of the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. The village is so named after the mimosas that abound in the area. We were there at off- season for mimosas (they bloom profusely in spring and its vanilla-like scent fills the air) but the village was exploding in bloom from bougainvilleas to oleanders, hibiscus, irises and many more. The air was also filled by the lovely scent emanating from the many eucalyptus trees.

We enjoyed exploring the narrow streets, from time to time stepping into the many quaint little shops selling typical Provence items from herbs to soaps, olive oils, wines, hand-woven bags, hand-crafted kitchen utensils, potteries, etc.

This is one place that I’d love to visit again in the future. I prefer this more than the glitzy and ritzy St. Tropez as it is more real and the old world charm is still very much well-preserved. We enjoyed a very nice lunch in a restaurant with an amazing view of the village below. When in France, the food will always be wonderful so we ordered the simple “plat du jour” or the day’s menu.

Maybe Bormes les Mimosas is an open secret for the French. I didn’t know till I was back in Holland that the official presidential summer residence of the French president is at Fort Breganson in Bormes les Mimosas. A few days after we left, I saw these articles on Hello Magazine:

Bumping along nicely: Carla Bruni on holiday






























Pregnant and camping: Why not?

The camping holiday we took in early summer of 2007 raised a few eyebrows for obvious reason — I was five months on the family way. Hubby and I are so fond of camping that my condition did not deter me then to enjoy the pleasure of an outdoor holiday. We’ve camped in a few countries in Europe, spent our honeymoon camping in Denmark and we even went on holiday in the United States camping in five states (Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico).

With our new tent, I could stand inside

Our tent

Enjoying a drink before dinner (I abstained from alcohol though)

We made a few adjustments though from our usual camping routine. First, we bought a bigger and taller tent to replace our small tent so that I can stand inside it and need not crawl to get in. Next, we plan the camping trip in such a way that we camped in just 3 places during the entire holiday instead of hopping from one camping site to the next on a daily basis like what we used to do in the past. In that way, we didn’t have to set up the tent in the afternoon and dismantle it in the morning as we move on.

We opted to go camping in France as on the holidays we’ve spent there in the past, we either stayed in hotels or holiday houses. It is also one popular camping destination for the Dutch which we’ve never validated if deserving of its popularity.

At Chateau Chenonceau which spans the river Cher

At Chateau de Chenonceau with the garden of Catherine de Medici in the background

My tummy looks like the topiaries at Chateau du Amboise

Our first camping stop was in the Loire Valley. As I love castles and is such a history and royalty buff, the Loire Valley was an obvious choice. More so, I’ve just finished reading Catherine de Medici’s biography by Leonie Frieda which with all the intrigues and drama of Renaissance France, made the desire to visit the castles of Chenonceau , Amboise, Chaumont sur Loire, etc. so compelling. We camped in the town of Chenonceaux itself, on the banks of the river Cher. Camping Le Moulin Fort was just 15 minutes walk from Chenonceaux Castle and literally almost a stone’s throw because we could even hear the outdoor music from the castle during the weekend’s music festival.

We enjoyed our stay in this camping site. What we also learned is that we can have electricity in our tent, we just needed to pay an extra Eur 2.00 per day and place a deposit on the special electrical cable and socket. This was a big improvement compared to our previous camping experiences were we literally have to rely on gas lamps and flashlights. Now, we can charge our mobile phones and even use the laptop.

Because of my condition, we also chose to set up the tent not so far from the toilet/bathroom. That’s another thing that we took into account and for the rest, it was business as usual.

Oh, I loved our breakfasts out there. The nice thing about camping in France was that we could place our orders of croissants and French bread in the evening at the camp shop. Hubby would pick them up there fresh from the oven at 8:30 in the morning. That was really heaven for me. I was eating like a construction worker according to him as I would eat between 3 to 4 of those lovely croissants slathered with butter and strawberry jam.

The Loire Valley must be the castle capital in the world with the highest number of castles per few square kilometers. In the beginning, we were visiting 3 to 4 castles a day (can you imagine that?) and that was because there were just so many of them and all with their own special attractions. At one point, I guess that castle fatigue knocked me off big time. Each castle especially from the inside started to look the same ;-)

Anyway, I will try to cover the castles in my upcoming blogs and give you a bit more insight into each and every one of them.

We stayed at the Loire Valley for 5 days before moving to the Drome which hubby wanted to show me. He spent a few weeks in the area doing field work many years ago as an Engineering Geology student. We would stay there for another 4 days and then it was the choice of driving further to the Provence in the south or heading to the French Alps. The latter prevailed because we didn’t have to drive a lot further and the weather forecast was excellent weather on the French side of the Alps.

At the Drome having fun


At one of the passes in the Drome

Rocky cliffs in the Drome were such breathtaking attractions

At the Alps

At the Alps, with snow still left in early summer

Life is about taking chances and thinking outside the box. I did not allow myself to be restricted by my pregnancy to enjoy a great holiday. Camping is fun and it is an adventure that we will carry on.

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