My lovely memories of Siena

Siena from the distance

Siena from the distance

We were in Tuscany three years ago and what a great time it was to spend two glorious weeks of summer in the almost magical Tuscan countryside.

I’ve blogged about this Tuscan holiday some months ago but not about the lovely city of Siena which my husband and I explored one hot summer day (without Francesca and my parents-in-law who opted for the soothing waters of the swimming pool back at our agriturismo apartment). I can fully understand them as a busy and touristic city is no place for a child and the grandparents on an extremely warm day, with the temperature soaring beyond 40 degrees Celsius.

Siena first came into my consciousness as a 9 year-old, not because of Geography lesson but religion because my parents transferred me and my brother and sister to a Catholic school run by the Dominican sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. I am not a very religious person but it was still mystifying to be in a city which I have always known to exist and more so, to pray inside the basilica right in front of relics of St. Catherine’s earthly existence.

My husband and I enjoyed the whole adventure. The drive to Sienna through a beautiful countryside was something straight out of a movie setting turned a.k.a. Reality — inviting sunflower fields, charming hilltop Medieval villages, vineyards and olive orchards, rolling hills turned golden by the ripening wheat fields dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees.

It was fun to see and experience a bit of Siena. From the Basilica of St. Catherine, we proceeded to have lunch at a restaurant where we had a good vantage point to observe the city. The restaurant’s interior still boasts of those old days’ charm from the dried peppers hanging on the wall together with the ham, dried sausages, garlic, etc.

Lunch was excellent. I opted for beef carpaccio as a starter and risotto for main course. The carpaccio which was well chilled was simply perfect to have on a very warm day. My husband loved his pizza. Our dessert of an almost melt in the mouth chocolate cake was divine.

We headed next to the centre of Siena. I love the narrow streets, the well-preserved architecture, colorful flowers on pots suspended in the air and the lively atmosphere of the city. I wanted to see the inside of the Duomo but decided not to as there was a long queue and the entry tickets were being sold elsewhere, a typical Italian complexity that is baffling for visitors like me.

We checked some interesting shops — galleries featuring Tuscan landscapes, leather shops, ceramic shops and the most interesting was one whose alchemic practices date back to the Renaissance. This shop’s history even goes back to the time of Catherine de Medici whose use of perfumes and scented soaps was an influence she brought to France when she married Henri II. I couldn’t resist the urge to try some of their products and bought some scented lavender soaps and bath salts to share with my mom-in-law who loves these things a lot.

After a few more ins and outs to the shops, it was time to head back to our agriturismo. A dip in the pool was becoming too irresistible before starting the dinner preparation.

Siena is one city that I’d love to visit again in the future, albeit at a much more pleasant temperature than the 42 degrees Celsius that it was.

Sunflower fields and hilltop Medieval villages from afar

Sunflower fields and hilltop Medieval villages from afar

Sunflower visited by a buzzing friend

Sunflower visited by a buzzing friend

Hubby and me on our way to Siena

Hubby and me on our way to Siena

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Rolling hillsides turned gold from the ripening wheat grains dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees

Rolling hillsides turned gold from the ripening wheat grains dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees

Olive orchards

Olive orchards

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena

The Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena

The Duomo

The Duomo

The restaurant where we had a very nice lunch

The restaurant where we had a very nice lunch

I always find this type of display very inviting

I always find this type of display very inviting

Beef carpaccio starter

Beef carpaccio starter

Pumpkin risotto

Pumpkin risotto

Monstrous pizza ordered by the hubby

Monstrous pizza ordered by the hubby

Melts in the mouth chocolate cake

Melts in the mouth chocolate cake

Cappuccino to keep us awake after the very nice lunch

Cappuccino to keep us awake after the very nice lunch

Can't resist getting a little refreshing relief under the 42 degree Celsius heat

Can’t resist getting a little refreshing relief under the 42 degree Celsius heat

Gallery featuring Tuscan countryside sceneries

Gallery featuring Tuscan countryside sceneries

Shop of leather goods

Shop of leather goods

Shop of religious goods

Shop of religious goods

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Masks

Masks

Travel guides

Travel guides

Perfumes whose formulas date back to the Renaissance era

Perfumes whose formulas date back to the Renaissance era

Couldn't resist some of these perfumed soaps

Couldn’t resist some of these perfumed soaps

These perfumed bath salts smelled divine

These perfumed bath salts smelled divine

Soaps from the days of the Medicis

Soaps from the days of the Medicis

Dried Italian herbs

Dried Italian herbs

One of the many ancient narrow streets

One of the many ancient narrow streets

At the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena is held twice a year

At the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena is held twice a year

Siena and its famous Torre del Mangia

Siena and its famous Torre del Mangia

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

The Basilica of St. Catherine from Siena's city centre

The Basilica of St. Catherine from Siena’s city centre

The limestone cliffs of Etretat

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

Monet's "End of the day" painting of Etretat

Monet’s “End of the day” painting of Etretat

Monet has immortalized in his canvas the limestone arches and cliffs of Etretat over a century ago. I can imagine why this fishing village along the Atlantic coast fascinated him then and why its charm still draws many to this day.

Almost five years ago, in late summer and my daughter was still a baby of just 10 months, we spent a week in this lovely seaside town. It was me and my husband’s second time to be in Normandy but a first for my parents-in-law who joined us in this holiday. We stayed in a pretty much secluded but lovely house owned by a French farmer perched on the hilltop that’s about two kms from Etretat’s town center.

Etretat is a town with character still intact in terms of those lovely half-timbered houses apart from its ever famous limestone arches and cliffs. While commercialism has unavoidably taken its root as well, the old charm still prevails. We had days spent on its pebbled beach watching just about everything — fishing boats coming onshore and the seemingly timeless manner of auctioning off the fishermen’s catch to restaurant buyers who boast of fresh catch of the day on their menus, busy cockle gatherers at low tide when the bottom of the shallow part of the Atlantic gets exposed, to magical sunsets that brought us a good understanding of why Monet fell in love with Etretat in the first place.

Etretat despite being romanticized most times, is like the rest of Normandy which has not been spared from the scourge of WWII. Along its picture-perfect coast, one cannot miss the heavily-fortified and macabre looking German bunker which must have seen some of the fiercest battles back then.

At the far end of Etretat’s picturesque limestone cliff is a quaint chapel which we visited in late afternoon just close to sunset time. It is not a real chapel but a folly, its placement there was more for aesthetic to further Etretat’s charm. Despite that discovery, this part of Etretat is simply spectacular with the most amazing vantage point to see the waters of the Atlantic as it stretches far into the horizon on one side, the town of Etretat below and the limestone arches further on.

We had a wonderful time during this holiday exploring not just Etretat but other historic places in Normandy as well.

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

Monet's painting

Monet’s painting

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

Etretat's pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Etretat’s pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Our family

Our family

Our family

Our family

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The folly chapel

The folly chapel

Etretat's limestone cliffs

Etretat’s limestone cliffs

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

Our family

Our family

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Francesca in Etretat

Francesca in Etretat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca with opa and oma

Francesca with opa and oma

At the shores of Etretat.  Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

At the shores of Etretat. Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

One sunny day in Etretat

One sunny day in Etretat

Our family

Our family

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

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

Groeneveld Castle in spring

Groeneveld Castle when the sun eventually showed up

Groeneveld Castle when the sun eventually showed up

After a very busy week at work and in between was a work-related one day trip to London that saw me rushing very early to the airport to catch the 08:00 a.m. flight and returning very late in the evening, I just felt the need to unwind with a little walk in nearby Groeneveld Castle. This castle and its grounds are just perfect for a little stroll at this time of the year because the many decades-old rhododendrons are in full bloom.

Groeneveld was just a perfect venue for our little girl’s seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for tree-climbing, catching dragonflies and a chasing game with her father.

Everything is so green around Groeneveld Castle

Everything is so green around Groeneveld Castle

Groeneveld Castle from the distance

Groeneveld Castle from the distance

Choosing the best ice cream flavor

Choosing the best ice cream flavor

Francesca at Groeneveld Castle

Francesca at Groeneveld Castle

My little girl up the tree

My little girl up the tree

My little tree up the tree

My little tree up the tree

My little girl and me

My little girl and me

My little girl and me up the tree

My little girl and me up the tree

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Yellow iris

Yellow iris

Prickly flowers

Prickly flowers

Dragonfly on yellow iris

Dragonfly on yellow iris

Dragonfly on the iris before it was chased away by the bumble bee

Dragonfly on the iris before it was chased away by the bumble bee

Reflections

Reflections

Lotus-covered lake

Lotus-covered lake

A carpet of lily of the valley

A carpet of lily of the valley

Checking out hole in a dead tree

Checking out hole in a dead tree

Tree branch is always a good find for the little girl

Tree branch is always a good find for the little girl

Trying out a tent made of tree branches

Trying out a tent made of tree branches

One of the many huge trees in the castle grounds

One of the many huge trees in the castle grounds

A crow up in the tree

A crow up in the tree

Yellow scented rhododendrons

Yellow scented rhododendrons

Ferns

Ferns

Francesca with her dragonfly

Francesca with her dragonfly

A dragonfly she caught

A dragonfly she caught

Dainty spring bloom

Dainty spring bloom

Father and daughter chasing game

Father and daughter chasing game

Relaxing after the chasing game...

Relaxing after the chasing game…

Francesca atop the remnants of a dead tree trunk

Francesca atop the remnants of a dead tree trunk

The dead tree trunk proved to be a good spring board

The dead tree trunk proved to be a good spring board

Groeneveld Castle just before we left

Groeneveld Castle just before we left

Hiking in the land where the hills are alive…

Up high in the mountains we do realize how much beauty there is that we oftentimes overlook back in the busy rat race that is every day life...

Up high in the mountains we do realize how much beauty there is that we oftentimes overlook back in the busy rat race that is every day life…

As the month of June inch its way, the excitement for the coming summer is starting to gather pace. The past week of glorious sunshine is also fueling that summer holiday feeling.

Still lots of patience needed as there are several more weeks to go before the school break. In our region (Middle Netherlands) will be the last to have the school break — only on week 30 (from 20 July to 1 September) which is pretty late this year. Because of this late holiday, we are going to Austria and hopefully, good weather will be on our side this time. The last time that we were there 4 years ago at just the onset of summer, we had a week of just rain and chilly if not freezing temperature.

On this post, I’m taking you high up in the alps on one of the very few days that we saw the sun on this holiday. Near our camping site was this cable lift that took us up the mountains but we opted to hike on the way down. Francesca was then a 20-month old toddler and fitted well in a backpack baby carrier. The hike down the mountain was a very rewarding adventure as we were able to witness first hand the incredible and beckoning beauty of this part of the planet — alpine cows grazing in the meadow, wild blooms of amazing colors, tarn that on a clear day reflects the infinite blue sky, incredible vantage point to view the picturesque villages in the valley and many more.

While the good weather days were few and far between, moments such as this trip we had up the mountain and down were worth the holiday in the Alps. I can hardly wait for another hiking adventure.

Picturesque villages in the valley as viewed from the mountain

Picturesque villages in the valley as viewed from the mountain

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter inside the cable car

Father and daughter inside the cable car

Little girl can hardly wait to check out snow remnants

Little girl can hardly wait to check out snow remnants

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Mountain tarn -- on a clear day reflects the blue sky above

Mountain tarn — on a clear day reflects the blue sky above

Alpine cow by the alpine shelter

Alpine cow by the alpine shelter

Alpine cows

Alpine cows

Our family

Our family

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine bloom

Wild alpine bloom

Amber-colored mushroom

Amber-colored mushroom

Path of the cable car

Path of the cable car

Even as a baby, Francesca loves adorning her hair with flowers

Even as a baby, Francesca loves adorning her hair with flowers

Picturesque alpine scenery

Picturesque alpine scenery

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl having fun playing with water

Little girl having fun playing with water

Francesca

Francesca

Me by the mountain tarn

Me by the mountain tarn

Alpine cow

Alpine cow

Tree-line part of the mountain

Tree-line part of the mountain

Wild flowers carpeting meadows

Wild flowers carpeting meadows

Butterfly

Butterfly

Kids on the loose at the gardens of Soestdijk Palace

Flowers for you...

Flowers for you…

Happiness is oftentimes just right before our very eyes, ready to be grabbed with both hands and very much willing to be shared and spread around. We never need to look far and wide nor travel to the ends of the world to find it. All we need to do is to open our hearts and embrace the opportunity to be a blessing to others just as our lives have been blessed by the One above. I live by this tenet on a daily basis, choosing to be happy when I wake up each morning, thankful for the many blessings of good health, my loving family, loyal friends and the career that fulfills me professionally.

I can never be happier waking up yesterday to the bright sunny day. After enjoying the leisurely breakfast that we normally have on a Sunday, I was busy again preparing our picnic basket. It was destination Soestdijk Palace which is a 10-minute drive away for a family outing. Timing-wise, yesterday was just perfect because the decades-old rhododendrons were in full bloom. Because happiness is best experienced when shared with others, my daughter invited her best friend to come along. Oh, what a day!

Soestdijk Palace was home to the late Queen Juliana (grandmother of present King Willem-Alexander) and her husband Prince Bernard until their deaths in 2004. The palace was opened to the public since the spring of 2006.

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Running around

Running around

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Jumping from sheer joy

Jumping from sheer joy

Chasing each other

Chasing each other

Playing hide-and-seek

Playing hide-and-seek

Picking flowers...

Picking flowers…

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Quiet moments ...

Quiet moments …

More chasing game

More chasing game

Checking out how tall the tree was...

Checking out how tall the tree was…

Best friends

Best friends

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons in full bloom

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

Just so much beauty all over...

Just so much beauty all over…

My little girl

My little girl

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree...

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree…

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Reflections on the lake

Reflections on the lake

Our family

Our family

Best friends...

Best friends…

Bouquet of spring blooms

Bouquet of spring blooms

Our family

Our family

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

Red leaves against the blue sky

Red leaves against the blue sky

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Soestdijk Palace

Soestdijk Palace

Palace grounds

Palace grounds

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

The best friends

The best friends

Against the sun...

Against the sun…

Lotus leaves on the lake...

Lotus leaves on the lake…

Reflections...

Reflections…

The Orangerie...

The Orangerie…

Clouds...

Clouds…

Best friends

Best friends

Light pink rhododendrons

Light pink rhododendrons

Red and green

Red and green

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Reflections...

Reflections…

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Hubby

Hubby

Me

Me

Our family

Our family

Bird in the air

Bird in the air

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Reflections...

Reflections…

My little girl

My little girl

One lovely spring day at the flower fields

Our family at the tulip fields in the Noordoost Polder

Our family at the tulip fields in the Noordoost Polder

One thing that spring affords me generously is a cost-free trip to seemingly endless floral wonderland. In the Noordoost Polder, there’s over hundred kilometers of flower fields to drive through and the whole journey doesn’t cost a thing except for the car’s petrol needs.

On Ascension Day (a Dutch public holiday) almost three weeks ago, we made this annual foray into the flower fields with my friend Elsa as well as my parents-in-law joining us. The trip was very Dutch as we brought our picnic basket and had our picnic lunch just beside the flower fields. Who needed a fancy restaurant lunch when we could have ours in the open with the seemingly endless fields of tulips right before our eyes.

We had a great time going from one field to the next and finally capping our floral wonderland tour at the exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips where I went crazy for macro shots despite the very windy condition.

Fields of pink tulips

Fields of pink tulips

Francesca with oma

Francesca with oma

Field of white, yellow and red tulips

Field of white, yellow and red tulips

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Me and my friend Elsa ... Francesca was not keen to pose with us

Me and my friend Elsa … Francesca was not keen to pose with us

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Little girl among the tulips

Little girl among the tulips

Little girl at the tulip fields

Little girl at the tulip fields

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

White tulips

White tulips

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Tulips

Tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Light pink tulips

Light pink tulips

My little girl among purple tulips

My little girl among purple tulips

My very sweet mom-in-law

My very sweet mom-in-law

Tulips

Tulips

A strange mutation of red and yellow

A strange mutation of red and yellow

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Little girl in the tulip field

Little girl in the tulip field

Red and yellow petaled tulips

Red and yellow petaled tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow and red petaled tulips

Yellow and red petaled tulips

Peach colored tulips

Peach colored tulips

Multi-colored tulips

Multi-colored tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

White and red petaled tulips

White and red petaled tulips

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Tulip fields behind the trees

Tulip fields behind the trees

Pink and green petaled tulips

Pink and green petaled tulips

The exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips

The exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips

A tulip up close

A tulip up close

Multi-petaled orange tulips

Multi-petaled orange tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips against the blue sky

Pink tulips against the blue sky

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips with white edges

Red tulips with white edges

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Tulips

Tulips

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Red and pink tulips

Red and pink tulips

Images from Keukenhof — part 2

More images from Keukenhof. If you are unable to make it to Holland in spring, let me bring Holland to you with these pictures…

My flower paradise every spring time - Keukenhof

My flower paradise every spring time – Keukenhof

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Light yellow tulips

Light yellow tulips

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Red and whites

Red and whites

Flower mosaic

Flower mosaic

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore...

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore…

White tulip

White tulip

Floral quilt

Floral quilt

White tulips among muscaris

White tulips among muscaris

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

There's no ugly corner in Keukenhof.  No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking.  ;-)

There’s no ugly corner in Keukenhof. No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking. ;-)

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Daffodils

Daffodils

Red tulips

Red tulips

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Busy bee

Busy bee

White daffodils

White daffodils

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

White and dark red petaled tulip

White and dark red petaled tulip

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Other spring blooms

Other spring blooms

Images from Keukenhof — part 1

Our family in Keukenhof

Our family in Keukenhof

After a bit of absence from this space, I am back with some colorful spring pictures from our trip to Keukenhof last Sunday. Weather was fantastic with lots of sunshine, blue skies and pleasantly warm temperature. Spring has finally arrived after the long wait!

We were there at 11 in the morning but the park was already bursting with visitors from all over the world. Funny enough, it was like being at a UN summit in a park setting.

Perfect time to be at Keukenhof as most of the blooms are already out and at their prettiest. My fingers kept on clicking so this post and the several to follow will be from this one lovely spring outing.

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Reds and yellows

Reds and yellows

Whites and oranges

Whites and oranges

Reds and peaches

Reds and peaches

Heady hyacinths

Heady hyacinths

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl among the daffodils

Little girl among the daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Flowery path

Flowery path

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

Dancing diva

Dancing diva

Checking out the pond

Checking out the pond

Magnolias

Magnolias

Hiding behind the tree

Hiding behind the tree

My little girl

My little girl

Happy little girl

Happy little girl

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Pink hyacinths

Pink hyacinths

Tulips

Tulips

Peach tulips

Peach tulips

Red Tulip

Red Tulip

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Tree tops from the ground

Tree tops from the ground

White blooms

White blooms

White tulip

White tulip

Fountain

Fountain

Chilly Easter egg hunt

The Easter egg hunters

The Easter egg hunters

The chill was unmistakable and the forecast was true to the dot that the temperature will not rise beyond 3 degrees Celsius but to the kids, that was no excuse to enjoy this year’s Easter egg hunt.

The whole adventure started with the egg painting that I organized at home last Saturday and punctually at 3pm, I have them at the door ringing the bell. It was fun to have all six of them — my Francesca, brothers Evan and Ilyaz, brothers Luuk and Job plus their soon to be three-year old sister Vera. Together at the table, they all took to the work at hand, painting the 40 hard boiled white eggs and showing off their creativity and artistry.

The Easter egg hunt was agreed to be at the same place as the previous year…at Soesterduinen. We love this place which is just a few kilometers away but is simply perfect for very energetic kids to run around as it is a wide expanse of sand dunes with sparse islands of pine trees that are perfect for climbing and also for hiding the Easter eggs.

We stayed in the usual place, a perfectly shaded area of several pine trees with branches that spread far and wide. The grown ups enjoyed the usual catch up conversations over everything — family, career, holidays, etc. while the little ones were crazily looking out for the eggs hidden all over.

It was a lot of fun save for the chilly wind that made the 3 degrees Celsius felt even far colder.

The egg painters

The egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

Soon to be three -- now officially joining in the fun.

Soon to be three — now officially joining in the fun.

Francesca at work

Francesca at work

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

Eggs!

Eggs!

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids' energy were boundless

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids’ energy were boundless

Egg hunters

Egg hunters

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Francesca in search for eggs

Francesca in search for eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Easter bunny

Easter bunny

Delight at every egg find

Delight at every egg find

Soesterduinen -- such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Soesterduinen — such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Sands and trees -- perfect spot for kids to play

Sands and trees — perfect spot for kids to play

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

One happy family

One happy family

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Francesca with her friends

Francesca with her friends

Our family

Our family

Another happy couple -- their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

Another happy couple — their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

Heading home -- tired Francesca on her father's back

Heading home — tired Francesca on her father’s back

What happened to spring?

Snow-covered "forget me not" blooms

Snow-covered “forget me not” blooms

Spring is always a much awaited and celebrated season in Holland. In this very flat country, the Dutch ingenuity of creating flower wonderlands in spring has always attracted millions of visitors from all over the world.

Dutch flower fields - typical spring scenery

Dutch flower fields – typical spring scenery

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago -- weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago — weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Egg hunt from 2 years ago -- we're longing for that weather this time.  Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

Egg hunt from 2 years ago — we’re longing for that weather this time. Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

As soon as March starts, I’m already in extreme anticipation of the new season with plans to hit the flower fields and visit to Keukenhof topping the agenda. This year, however, that usual enthusiasm is tempered by the current reality of freezing temperature which if forecasts are to be relied upon, is very discouraging as it is expected to persist till most of the month of April.

What happened to spring? Why the big snub this year? Will it still ever come or are we just going to progress to summer and skip spring all together? I hope not….

We had an infinitesimal glimpse of spring three weeks ago for two days with the mercury tipping at 15 degrees Celsius at the warmest and enough to awaken the croci from their winter slumber. My little girl and I went out as she wanted to pick a few blooms and that was all that spring has been so far from our end.

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Snow bells

Snow bells

Snow-covered blooms

Snow-covered blooms

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow-covered leaves

Snow-covered leaves

Snow dusted plants

Snow dusted plants

Snow-covered bloom

Snow-covered bloom

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Croci

Croci

Crocus

Crocus

Francesca

Francesca

Picnic and fishing at the Dordogne River

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

It was yet again another very warm summer day and my parents-in-law’s last day in the Dordogne. After checking out from Le Chambellan which has been their home away from home in the last few days, we all headed to the nearby Dordogne River for one last visit to this idyllic place from where we all had a great time — having picnic and fishing before driving to Bergerac for their flight back to Holland.

With her pink net and just slathered with a thick layer of sunblock, Francesca together with her father spent a great deal of time netting baby and juvenile trouts in the shallow waters of Dordogne while me, Opa and Oma watched with delight in the shades by the river bank. Lunch was a picnic of French goodies which can never be any nicer than in such a setting.

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Fishing in action -- the trouts were quite fast

Fishing in action — the trouts were quite fast

Two excited fish catchers

Two excited fish catchers

Birds in the sky

Birds in the sky

Other holiday makers

Other holiday makers

Aiming for the baby trouts

Aiming for the baby trouts

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Chateau de Hautefort and its gardens

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

The day before my parents-in-law were due to fly back to Holland, we went to visit yet another castle — the Chateau de Hautefort.

This castle was about an hour’s drive from our base so we brought our picnic basket. One thing that we loved in this holiday was having a picnic lunch which was just so ideal when visiting places like this castle so we avoid long queues and waiting in the restaurant. Our French picnic basket consisted of French bread, pate, cheese and a very succulent melon which we ate under the walnut trees at the foot of the castle’s ground.

The castle was an amazing revelation although it has seen some untoward development in its history like fire but has since then, been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Not all parts of the castle was open to the public but there was enough to see. The gardens — left me at a loss to describe beauty in its purest sense.

This chateau has also graced the silver screen when it was used as one of the locations for the movie Ever After directed by Andy Tenant and starred by Drew Barrymore.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau -- under the shade of walnut trees.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau — under the shade of walnut trees.

Impressive gardens of the chateau -- geometric shapes, topiaries...

Impressive gardens of the chateau — geometric shapes, topiaries…

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Our family

Our family

Francesca's idea of family picture

Francesca’s idea of family picture

Another angle of the chateau

Another angle of the chateau

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

At the chateau's entrance

At the chateau’s entrance

Our family

Our family

Another angle of the garden

Another angle of the garden

The garden

The garden

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

The chateau

The chateau

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

Another accessible room at the chateau

Another accessible room at the chateau

A peek into the bygone era

A peek into the bygone era

A tunnel inside the chateau

A tunnel inside the chateau

The chateau's door

The chateau’s door

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Opa and Francesca at the chateau's gift shop

Opa and Francesca at the chateau’s gift shop

Opa's present from the chateau's shop

Opa’s present from the chateau’s shop

Opa and oma

Opa and oma

Roses

Roses

Pink bloom

Pink bloom

Butterfly

Butterfly

Red roses

Red roses

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

Blue flowers

Blue flowers

French summer basket

French summer basket

Wishing well???

Wishing well???

My little girl

My little girl

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet

My prawn flambee

My prawn flambee

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Dad buying mom's French basket

Dad buying mom’s French basket

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The overhanging gardens of Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees - Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees – Chateau de Marqueyssac

Dordogne is reputed to be the land of a thousand chateaus (castles) so it is mecca to a castle fanatic like me. Further to that reputation are its many amazing parterre (formal) gardens which have behind them centuries of history.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely Chateau de Marqueyssac and its amazing gardens of boxwood trees carved in fantastic shapes. Certainly well worth a visit if you happen to be in Dordogne, this chateau and garden is nestled on a hill with splendid views of the medieval Chateau de Castelnaud and its fierce rival, the Chateau de Beynac as well as the lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne river.

We had a great time exploring this garden, even taking the five kilometer walk to explore every nook and corner of this lovely place. At the end of that walk, we enjoyed a lovely picnic at the chateau’s grounds with amazing view of the farmlands below the hill and the Chateau de Beynac in the distance.

By the way, Chateau de Beynac has served as location for several films, among them Ever After by Andy Tennant in 1998 and Jeanne d’Arc by Luc Besson, in 1999. The village of Beynac below the chateau, also served as a location for the film Chocolat by Lasse Hallström, in 2000.

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees

Carved boxwood trees

Among the carved boxwood trees

Among the carved boxwood trees

Trees and carved boxwood trees

Trees and carved boxwood trees

My little girl

My little girl

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Carved boxwood trees

Carved boxwood trees

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

Chateau de Marqueyssac

My little girl

My little girl

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Inside the chateau

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Chateau de Beynac in the distance

Chateau de Beynac in the distance

The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud

The medieval fortress of Chateau de Castelnaud

Lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne River

Lovely medieval villages along the Dordogne River

Playground

Playground

Playground

Playground

Chapel at the chateau's ground

Chapel at the chateau’s ground

Oma ensuring that Francesca does not fall over the cliff

Oma ensuring that Francesca does not fall over the cliff

Curious visitors checking out what's inside the chapel

Curious visitors checking out what’s inside the chapel

Alley of santolina and rosemary

Alley of santolina and rosemary

Another chateau as seen from Marqueyssac

Another chateau as seen from Marqueyssac

Hut made of stones

Hut made of stones

Tree house

Tree house

Tree house

Tree house

Water system to maintain the gardens

Water system to maintain the gardens

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

wooden shop articles

shop articles

shop articles

Lovely shop articles

Lovely shop articles

Family picnic

Family picnic

Francesca with Opa and Oma

Francesca with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma joins us on holiday

Oma!!!!

Oma!!!!

To a little girl who have her grandparents a constant presence from day 1, three weeks feel like eternity to not see them for that length of time. Thus, when we were planning our summer holiday last year, we took into account that opa (grandfather) and oma (grandmother) can also join us for a few days.

As driving the over 1,000 kilometers distance is not my father-in-law’s idea of driving pleasure especially at the height of the European summer holidays when highways are filled to the brim with traffic, we arranged for them to fly from Rotterdam Airport to Bergerac Airport which was a good hour’s drive from where we were camping. Though we have quite a spacious six-person tent, camping is no longer their idea of holiday convenience so through booking.com, we found a cozy two-star hotel in the village of Le Coux et Bigaroux, about 10-minutes drive from our camping place. My mom-in-law fell in love at first sight with the charms of Le Chambellan. Nothing fancy, the hotel’s magic is woven from its gardens filled with many lovely plants, canopies of grapes under which we would have our dinner on a balmy summer night and its close proximity to the Dordogne River from where we would enjoy carefree moments throwing stones and snaring little trouts in later days.

It was a very hectic day for opa and oma who had to start early with their trip starting with a bus ride from their place in Dronten to the train station in Kampen from where they could take the train to Rotterdam. From the train station in Rotterdam, they then took a bus to Rotterdam Airport and then boarded the Transavia flight to Bergerac. Weary but happy, it was a wonderful moment for all of us to see each other again. The little girl was overjoyed to see her beloved opa and oma and could hardly wait to keep them up to speed on what to do and see in the coming days.

Oma!!!

Oma!!!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

"Opa, you are here at last!"

“Opa, you are here at last!”

Can't wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Can’t wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Charming Le Chambellan

Charming Le Chambellan

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Beautiful skies

Beautiful skies

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Summer blooms

Summer blooms

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Opa

Oma and Opa

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Looking for flat stones

Looking for flat stones

Waiting for dinner

Waiting for dinner

Steak and fries

Steak and fries

Typical Dordogne dish -- Duck

Typical Dordogne dish — Duck

Chocolate dessert

Chocolate dessert

Strawberry dessert

Strawberry dessert

Dessert

Dessert

Francesca

Francesca

Our family

Our family

Weary but happy after the long trip -- bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

Weary but happy after the long trip — bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Topiaries at Eyrignac

Topiaries at Eyrignac

Dordogne was the logical option for us to go to after spending the first part of our camping holiday in the Bordeaux area as it was just a good three hours drive eastward. I had no clue as to what can be expected in this part of France. The husband went camping here with his parents and older brother when he was small (that was over 3 decades ago) and his memory were only of the caves for which he became claustrophobic. He still dreams of those stalagmites and stalactites and how they would grow into monsters that would suck the life out of him. Another friend from Scotland (we became friends when we stayed in the same agriturismo in Tuscany two summers earlier) holidayed in Dordogne the year before and only had horror stories to tell from unending bad weather and compounded by car breakdown. Thus, to be honest, I had my worries too that this might not be the place to go for summer holiday.

What a pleasant surprise! Our whole stay of 1.5 weeks in Dordogne were only characterized by blue skies and warm temperature. We skipped the caves but there were so much to see from markets to Medieval castles and parterre gardens. We were able to enjoy as well a step back in time, a kind of re-living of childhood memories when we spent wonderful idyllic moments fishing in the Dordogne River, having picnic most times in the best of surroundings, swimming in the pool at the camping, etc.

One of the many gardens that caught my eye was the French gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac. It was about an hour’s drive from our camping and was well worth the visit. Nestled in the heart of Perigord Noir, these gardens feature plant sculptures, box embroideries, fountains and fields of wild blooms.

Sculptured plants at the Gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at the Gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at Eyrignac

Sculptured plants at Eyrignac

Fruit-bearing trees

Fruit-bearing trees

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Shop and entrance to the gardens

Shop and entrance to the gardens

Restaurant at the manor

Restaurant at the manor

Topiaries and box embroideries

Topiaries and box embroideries

Star corner

Star corner

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

The gardens of the Manor of Eyrignac

Sculptured plants

Sculptured plants

Topiaries and plant boxes

Topiaries and plant boxes

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Centuries-old chapel

Centuries-old chapel

View from inside the chapel

View from inside the chapel

The chapel's altar

The chapel’s altar

The little girl inside the chapel

The little girl inside the chapel

Sculptured plants

Sculptured plants

Plant sculptures

Plant sculptures

The little girl among sculptured plant boxes

The little girl among sculptured plant boxes

Our family

Our family

Chinese pagoda

Chinese pagoda

Sculptured arches

Sculptured arches

My idea of a countryside home and garden

My idea of a countryside home and garden

Plant arches and flower garden

Plant arches and flower garden

I can spend hours here in pure delight

I can spend hours here in pure delight

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

My little girl

My little girl

Wild blooms

Wild blooms

zinnia

zinnia

Dahlia

Dahlia

Lilly

Lilly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Not sure what this flower is called but was pretty interesting

Not sure what this flower is called but was pretty interesting

Bee

Bee

Busy bee

Busy bee

Butterfly among wild blooms

Butterfly among wild blooms

Pruned apple trees

Pruned apple trees

Wild blooms

Wild blooms

Dahlias

Dahlias

Fountains

Fountains

Perigord Noir countryside from the Eyrignac gardens

Perigord Noir countryside from the Eyrignac gardens

My little girl

My little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Enjoying the pricey milkshake on a very warm day

Enjoying the pricey milkshake on a very warm day

Our family

Our family

Goodies from the gardens' shop

Goodies from the gardens’ shop

Goodies from the gardens' shop

Goodies from the gardens’ shop

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

Monet’s home and garden in Giverny

Monet's home in Giverny

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet entered my consciousness as a college freshman taking up the elective subject of Humanities.  His paintings of water lilies from his garden in Giverny were special favorites.

Fast forward to over two decades later I would be in Giverny, admiring his amazing gardens and being inside his home which gave me a glimpse of his life way back then.  Unfortunately, taking pictures inside his home was forbidden so I could only commit to memory the lovely and cozy atmosphere of his family home.

Giverny is a short distance from Paris and a one day side trip is what many visitors to the City of Lights do. Pretty popular, it is advisable to go there a bit early in the morning to avoid the big crowd of tourists who come in huge touring buses. We took a lazy approach to our sightseeing, staying two nights at a lovely bed and breakfast in a village that’s about 10 minutes drive from Giverny.

Water lilies at Monet's garden in Giverny

Water lilies at Monet’s garden in Giverny

Bridge over a pond of water lilies

Bridge over a pond of water lilies

Water lilies - inspiration for his many paintings

Water lilies – inspiration for his many paintings

Yellow water lilies

Yellow water lilies

Our family

Our family

Well tended garden with flowers carefully organized to bloom from spring to fall

Well tended garden with flowers carefully organized to bloom from spring to fall

Monet's garden is paradise to butterflies

Monet’s garden is paradise to butterflies

My little girl

My little girl

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

zinnia

zinnia

Roses

Roses

One of the many summer blooms

One of the many summer blooms

Monet's home from his garden

Monet’s home from his garden

Flowers everywhere

Flowers everywhere

Water lilies

Water lilies

Pink zinnia

Pink zinnia

Dahlias

Dahlias

Monet's home from the garden

Monet’s home from the garden

My little girl

My little girl

The Mr. outside Monet's home

The Mr. outside Monet’s home

Moi

Moi

Water lilies pond

Water lilies pond

Monet's garden

Monet’s garden

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Monet's garden

Monet’s garden

Bamboos

Bamboos

Monet's garden in Giverny

Monet’s garden in Giverny

Discovering the Atlantic

First glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean

I grew up in a country bounded on one side by the Pacific and the other side by the South China Sea. Imagine turquoise blue waters and coconut-tree lined beaches with powdery white sand… yes, the classic definition of paradise.

The Atlantic on the other hand, paints a totally different picture. Forget the coconut trees (this place is too cold for that) but there is certainly lots of charm in its beaches whose sheer breadth is astounding, its golden sand that’s an amazing contrast to its turquoise blue waters and the dunes dotted with amazing flora.

We had a lovely time discovering this piece of paradise on earth. No busy structures along the beach, no ships or boats in the horizon and save for a few others soaking in the sun, this place was totally our own.

Wide beach and hilly dunes

The road leading to the ocean – tough on the calves but the sheer beauty of this place was worth the hard walk

The Atlantic Ocean from the dunes

The dunes with its amazing flora and the blue waters of the Atlantic

One of the many interesting floras in the dunes

The beach, the dunes and the immense sky

The ocean, beach and dunes underneath the immense sky

The beach, the ocean and the immense sky

Golden sand, turquoise water and blue skies

The dunes and the Atlantic Ocean

Father and daughter heading to the beach

Footprints in the sand

Despite the absence of coconut trees, the Atlantic has other charms like this dune teeming with amazing flora

The Atlantic and its dunes

Shells…

Father and daughter all poised to test the water

The little girl attempting to surf (inspired by a Barbie film she’d seen)

The little girl with her Dora floater

Our shelter from the sun and wind in this very empty beach

Our family

Our family

Fun in the sand

Sheer delight for the little girl

Father and daughter

Papa’s girl

Papa’s girl

Father and daughter enjoying the water

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

A lovely stay in a French chateau

The Chateau de Sarceaux as viewed from the little lake in its sprawling grounds

I must have been a royal in previous life to have this extreme fascination for castles and palaces and anything royal and regal. Looking for a place to spend overnight somewhere in France, midway to our camping destination came easy with the many choices available through Booking.com. My husband outright told me that we should choose for something outside town because of parking consideration — our car is full with stuffs and we cannot take them out except for the overnight bag.

The chateau we’ve chosen was pretty secluded, with a good amount of wooded area and meadows to be traversed before we could reach it. Not a huge chateau but pretty cozy, we learned from its owners (a marquis and marquise) that they are already the 6th generation of inhabitants to this chateau. We were led to our reserved room which was really charming especially given the fact that the furnishings were still all original. It felt like a step back in time for us. The only seemingly modern feature in the room was the bathroom which was updated to modern times and had plenty of warm water, something uncharacteristic of typically spartan chateaus.

The marquis asked if we would like to have dinner at the chateau so we immediately said, “Oui”. Who wouldn’t want to dine in such a setting? Dinner was at 7:45pm but we first assembled in the living room where together with the other guests, were served aperitif and little snacks. It was nice to meet the other guests — an English couple who live near Cambridge and two old ladies (one Dutch and her English friend who was married to a Dutch man).

It was a lovely evening with lively conversation flowing over drinks and food. Dinner was served in the stately dining room which Francesca found wonderful especially with her faux jewels, feeling every inch the princess of the chateau. ;-)

If you want to know more about this chateau, here’s link to some information: http://www.france-hotel-guide.com/en/14878-chateau-de-sarceaux-valframbert-en.php?langue=en

Another angle of the chateau

Father and daughter

Me and the chateau in the background

Our little princess

She became friends with this lovely dog

Lots of open spaces and new friends to make ;-)

Good boy!

Chase me Mam!

I love the simplicity of this chateau

Very old rose vines and the roses with the most amazing scent I’ve ever smelled

The living room where we assembled for aperitif and small bites later

The small room for Francesca which was connected to our bedroom

The fireplace in our bedroom — not in use anymore because the room in updated with modern heating system

Our bedroom

The bathroom

Simple and cozy feature of the bathroom

The scent from these fresh roses filled the room

The hallway at the first floor

Ground floor hallway

Another living room in the chateau

Small bites

Original pieces of period furniture

Father and daughter playing cards at the living room before dinner

The little princess at the dining room, feeling pretty much at home ;-)

The dinner guests

Salad of greens, avocado and shrimps

Dinner of veal stewed in white wine with chervil served with baked potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms

Dessert of green apple sorbet drizzled with Calvados

The marquis serving the cheese platter

After dinner entertainment — we all went back to the living room for a bit of singing while the marquise played the music on the piano

The very enthusiastic marquise also led us into acapella singing of “Auld lang syne”

At the breakfast table with the other guests the next morning

French breakfast fare

Father and daughter

The chateau just before we left

Bitter sweet parting

Holiday afterthoughts

Chateau de Sarceaux from the distance

My sincere apologies for the long absence on this space. First, both work and home fronts went haywire in the weeks preceding our holiday and then our holiday for almost 3 weeks in France kicked off but internet connection then became a precious commodity.

Lots of stories to tell — which would take me a while to do together with the pictures that I also enjoyed taking along the way. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all from the many travels I’ve done in the past, this recent holiday brought in new and amazing surprises.

I will take you along to a French chateau where we spent one lovely evening wining and dining with the marquis and the marquise and to our camping experience in Cap Ferret where we had the best of both the Arcachon Bay and the Atlantic Coast as well as some of the amazing vineyards which produce some of the best French wines. Then we will move on to the Dordogne Valley which at first I thought was some backwaters of France but whose charm would hook me forever from its many amazing surprises that run from its many feudal castles to spectacular gardens, sunflower fields, Medieval villages, lively markets and so much more. Capping our holiday was a side trip to Monet’s garden in Giverny complemented by a lovely stay in a very cozy bed and breakfast where we felt very much at home.

Francesca became friends with the family dog right away

Our bedroom with original period furnishings — felt like a step back in time.

The little princess at the dining room

The Atlantic coast

Father and daughter are such water lovers — this place is paradise for them.

Our family

One of the many games to enjoy in the almost empty beach front along the Atlantic coast

Oyster stalls in Gujan Mestras along the Arcachon Bay

Father and daughter with the Medieval city of Saint Emilion in the background

The little girl in Saint Emilion

Our family in Saint Emilion

Saw lots of macarons in Saint Emilion and had to buy a dozen of different flavors.

Wine chateaux abound in Saint Emilion and this is just one of the many that we saw along the way. The little girl is showing off her tumbling skills here.

Wild flower fields we passed by in the Medoc area

Vineyards in the Medoc area oftentimes stretching to as far as the eyes can see

Sunflower fields

Sunflowers

Our family in a field of wild blooms

The little girl with her haul of dead crabs in Gujan Mestras

The Dordogne river in the afternoon

Netting young trouts in the Dordogne

Opa and Oma flew in through Bergerac for a few days, much to our delight. They stayed at a very cozy hotel in nearby Le Coux et Bigaroux.

We celebrated Dad’s birthday with lunch in Sarlat and dinner in Audrix.

Together we visited the Chateau de Hautefort and were very impressed by its gardens

Our family in Chateau de Hautefort

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet’s pond of lillies

Lillies in Giverny

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

Laid-back life under the Tuscan sun

Misty morning

After a busy day in Florence and staying late for the pizza party and the subsequent football match, we took it easy the following day, just stayed at Pelagaccio, went for a dip at the pool and simply enjoyed the laid-back Tuscan life away from the pressures of work and the rigors of daily life.

I oftentimes had to be reminded to take it easy once in a while and as we were here for two weeks, there was plenty of time still for sightseeing. Francesca’s needs should also be given top consideration. Hers were different from our own and the trips to busy places were not her thing. She just loves it here choosing among several alternatives at her disposal – swimming at the pool, playing at the playground, cycling on her trike or assembling her lego blocks and puzzles.

It was again a very misty morning and I’ve been meaning since a few days ago to take some pictures of this phenomenon. It was always misty in the morning due to the temperature drop during the night and it was amazing to observe how the mist eventually disappeared as the fierce Tuscan sun made its way.

What a lovely sight to see when the hills were all covered in mist, even Pelagaccio was hardly visible from the pool which was but a few yards away. I found myself taking pictures not just of the landscape around me but of the flowers which after the routine morning watering looked like they had just been kissed by the rain.

After breakfast, it was time for a dip in the pool. I joined for a short while but did not linger because my left foot which has blister from previous day’s hike over the hills (I did not wear proper shoes in that hike) was irritated by the lightly salted pool water. I don’t know why but the pool water here was a bit salty. Francesca as usual, had a grand time especially when opa and oma later came and joined in on the fun.

I volunteered to instead prepare lunch, inspired by the meal I had in Florence the day before. We still had left over bread from which I could make the bruschetta. From the grocery this morning, I got some parsley and tomatoes. Wow, lunch turned out to be a great success!

To make the bruschetta, I sliced the bread to about half an inch thickness and sprinkled that with extra virgin olive oil and added a small amount of finely chopped garlic. In essence, bruschetta is garlic bread. I fried/roasted the bread in a flat-bellied Teflon pan till it was brown and crispy. For the toppings, I chopped some tomatoes, added some finely chopped garlic and parsley, extra virgin olive oil and seasoned that with salt and pepper. With some chilled white wine to down the bruschetta al pomodori with, we all had a great fill and then it was time for the afternoon siesta.

At about 5pm, hubby and Francesca were again back at the pool for that before dinner swim to create some appetite especially for the little girl who has all the time for playing but no time for food. She reminded me of my own childhood where when the opportunity to play arises, eating and other considerations would surely take a back seat. Oh well, we had to make the most of this opportunity which is not an every day thing. Having a pool at our disposal, a playground and to top it all, the time to unwind and forget the rigors of daily life are rare pleasures for which we should spare time to savor.

Dinner that night was hubby’s turf – pasta. He made used of penne and prepared a very yummy red sauce made from sautéing garlic, onions, tinned peeled tomatoes and some leftover salami. He got some dried mushrooms from the grocery this morning but did not use that because it required 20 minutes soaking in cold water for which he had no time. There was also no basil leaves from that small shop so he made use of parsley which was just as nice. On the side was the mozzarella cheese with fresh tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper and topped with more chopped parsley. I made some more garlic bread from the leftovers. A bottle of chilled white wine proved to be an excellent companion to our splendid dinner under the trees.

Visibility of just a few meters — the mist shrouds the hills farther

Misty morning

The sun peering through the mist

Misty morning … hills in the distance not visible

View of the Tuscan countryside once the mist was gone

pink blooms

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink oleander

Courgette bloom

Orange daisy

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Unripe grapes

Rosebud

Drops

A spider in its web

A yellow butterfly perched on lavender blooms

A white butterfly

White butterfly in transit

Busy bee

Busy bee

Father and daughter at the pool

Little girl and oma

Little girl and oma

Pool fun with the grandparents

Hubby on the inflatable dolphin

The dolphin flipped over ;-)

The little girl has more expertise on handling the dolphin than her father

Francesca with opa and oma

Bruschetta made from leftover bread

Hubby’s version of salade caprese

Penne with tomato sauce and salami

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