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

Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was € 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. ;-)

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. ;-)

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. ;-)

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

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

A very Dutch journey through time

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.  Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn. Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

It’s springtime again and I can’t believe how fast the year went by. It’s been almost a year since we made this amazing journey through time by boat and steam train through the Medieval towns of Enkhuizen, Medemblik and Hoorn in the province of North Holland (West Friesland to many). This is one exciting journey to take if you happen to be in Holland in springtime because the whole trip takes just a day and these towns are within easy reach from Amsterdam. From Amsterdam to Hoorn, a direct train ride takes about 33 minutes and costs € 7.60. From Hoorn, you can then take the steam train to Medemblik and from Medemblik there is the museum boat that will take you to Enkhuizen. From Enkhuizen, you can take a direct train to Amsterdam that will take about 58 minutes and costs € 10.30. Here’s the link to the Dutch railway: www.ns.nl

I got the idea to do this trip from a colleague of mine who lives in Hoorn which in spring, is lovely to visit passing through tulip fields that seem to go on forever. For more information, here’s the link to the site of the museum: http://www.museumstoomtram.nl/en

Because our originating place was Dronten where my parents-in-law live, we approached the trip from the other way around. Our journey started in Enkhuizen where we boarded the museum boat “Friesland” headed to Medemblik. The trip was a very sentimental journey for my parents-in-law who used to travel in this very same boat over 40 years ago when they lived for a while in the island of Terschelling and this boat was still plying the Harlingen-Terschelling route. My husband, then the same age as Francesca also travelled in this boat so you can just imagine how sentimental that is. My parents-in-law checked out the boat and were amazed that many of the original features were still very much intact. The whole boat trip took a good hour so when we arrived in Medemblik, we looked for a restaurant to have a quick lunch to be in time for the steam train trip that will take us to Hoorn. We opted for a typical Dutch lunch favorite, the “Uitsmijter” which consisted of bread slices topped with ham, fried eggs, grated cheese with tomatoes and cucumber on the side. Francesca found another use for the cucumber though. ;-)

The steam train journey was interesting as we were joined by museum volunteers who were dressed in period costumes. They were very enthusiastic at explaining the culture, norms and traditions of the people in West Friesland back then. Another interesting aspect of this train journey was the amazing landscape we passed through — from tulip fields in full bloom to orchards and quaint villages. Too bad that the weather was not on our side though.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The museum boat "Friesland" plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route.  My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

The museum boat “Friesland” plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route. My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Our family inside the "Friesland".

Our family inside the “Friesland”.

Francesca with opa.

Francesca with opa.

The Mr. with his mom.  Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

The Mr. with his mom. Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

Me

Me

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

The harbor of Medemblik.

The harbor of Medemblik.

Hubby and his dad.

Hubby and his dad.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik.  We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik. We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite - the Uitsmijter.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite – the Uitsmijter.

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber.   ;-)

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber. ;-)

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

A lady in period costume.

A lady in period costume.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

An old lady in period costume.  She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

An old lady in period costume. She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Dutch countryside scenery -- Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Dutch countryside scenery — Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Orchards in full bloom.

Orchards in full bloom.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Medieval Elburg some summers ago

It is almost three summers ago when we first visited Elburg. Lucky with both the weather and the timing of the annual market day, we had wonderful memories from that visit.

In this post, let me take you back to that glorious summer day.

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The harbor

The harbor

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture...  ;-)

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture… ;-)

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

My favorite arched bridge

My favorite arched bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

A closer look at the arched bridge

A closer look at the arched bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Lotus-filled canal

Lotus-filled canal

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

They became instant friends

They became instant friends

Best of friends some summers ago...

Best of friends some summers ago…

Wild blooms everywhere

Wild blooms everywhere

Ducks

Ducks

Lotus blooms

Lotus blooms

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca

Francesca

Everything was just so green and beautiful...

Everything was just so green and beautiful…

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Francesca with her ice cream

Francesca with her ice cream

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Dutch cheeses

Dutch cheeses

Mustard

Mustard

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Cheeses

Cheeses

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries -- products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries — products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Strawberries

Strawberries

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Fresh summer fruits

Fresh summer fruits

Speculaas - Dutch spice cookies

Speculaas – Dutch spice cookies

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

Cozy windows

Cozy windows

Cozy row houses

Cozy row houses

Lunch of fried eel

Lunch of fried eel

Francesca's choice of bread with friend egg

Francesca’s choice of bread with friend egg

The sky when it was time to leave...

The sky when it was time to leave…

Exploring Medieval Elburg one chilly second Easter day

Every country seems to have peculiarities in observing religious holidays. In the Philippines where I grew up, Good Friday is a holiday. Apart from church activities like the observance of the “Seven Last Words”, the country comes to a standstill. Basically all establishments from schools, offices, shops, etc. are closed for business on this day. Activities would resume to full speed comes Easter Sunday when everyone feels that as the right time because “Christ is risen after triumph over death”. The opposite is true here in Holland because for many establishments except schools and banks, Good Friday is a normal working day. Easter Sunday and the Monday after, on the other hand, are observed as religious holidays. Second Easter day is like Sunday with all establishments closed for business. It is on this chilly second Easter day that I will take you with me to a little known charming place here in Holland called Elburg.

After the Easter egg hunt and dropping over at the place of my friend Marie for Easter dinner, we went over to my parents-in-law’s place to spend the night and celebrate second Easter day together with a nice brunch. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly that it was a pity to spend the day indoor. We opted to go out for a bit of fresh air and headed to the lovely Medieval town of Elburg, just some 11 kms. from my in-law’s place. Francesca was happy to stay with Opa and Oma.

This is just my second time here in Elburg despite the frequency of our visits to my in-laws and its close proximity to their place. What a big difference it was to be here on a very chilly day when my earlier memories were of a very nice warm summer day when flowers were blooming all over and it was such a joy to see this town filled with locals and tourists alike checking out not just the town’s attractions but also the many local produce on display. That first visit happened to be the town’s annual celebration of their market day.

With very few people out and the shops closed saved for restaurants and cafes that opened their doors, we had a rather quick exploration of the town. It was interesting to discover new places that we never saw the first time we were here such as the Jewish cemetery which was just a short distance from the huge Protestant Church.

I look forward to coming back when the weather warms up, when flowers start to bloom as this town will be even far alluring then.

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

Moi

Moi

The Vischpoort  -- Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

The Vischpoort — Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

Moi

Moi

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year.  Had to still wait a while this time...

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year. Had to still wait a while this time…

Another angle of the church

Another angle of the church

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

Jewish cemetery

Jewish cemetery

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death -- victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death — victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

The Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church

Elburg

Elburg

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg.  Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg. Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Always a big fan of arched bridges -- couldn't resist taking this picture.

Always a big fan of arched bridges — couldn’t resist taking this picture.

Moi

Moi

I love this type of building -- old farmhouse style.

I love this type of building — old farmhouse style.

Finally it was time for some cappuccino...

Finally it was time for some cappuccino…

We shared this cake -- a very Dutch thing I guess.  ;-)

We shared this cake — a very Dutch thing I guess. ;-)

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy...typical Dutch concept of "gezelligheid".

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy…typical Dutch concept of “gezelligheid”.

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

Exploring Paulliac and the Medoc wine areas

The little girl among the wild flowers

The little girl among the wild flowers

The wines of Paulliac came highly recommended from the marquis of the chateau where we stayed in Alencon. Since it was our first time to be in the area, we had no clue as to what can be expected. We were pleasantly surprised during the drive to Paulliac as we passed through scenic vineyards, lovely wine chateaus and fields of wild blooms.

Paulliac lies on the banks of the Gironde estuary and it could this crucial geographical location and geological phenomenon that account for the special quality of red wines from this area.

We took our time savoring a lovely lunch of seafoods in one of the many nice restaurants along the harbor. On the way back, we stop by a lovely wine chateau along the way and just took our time to savor the blissful atmosphere under the blue skies. We also made a short stop at a field of wild blooms and really had a great time savoring nature’s incredible ability to create beauty that pleases the senses.

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

Paulliac

Paulliac

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

Seafood lunch

Seafood lunch

The harbor of Paulliac

The harbor of Paulliac

The Gironde Estuary - it's mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

The Gironde Estuary – it’s mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

Our family

Our family

She's one little comic

She’s one little comic

Also a good tattoo artist

Also a good tattoo artist

And an acrobat

And an acrobat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Paulliac

Paulliac

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Prized grapes

Prized grapes

Vineyards

Vineyards

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

A little girl in the vineyard

A little girl in the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

Can't resist to do flower-picking

Can’t resist to do flower-picking

My little girl among wild blooms

My little girl among wild blooms

Flower girl

Flower girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Our family

Our family

Flower girl

Flower girl

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Fort Medoc

Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

Enchanting Bruges

Romantic Bruges at night

Romantic Bruges at night

To those who are hopeless romantics like me, there’s one city that never disappoints… Medieval Bruges in Belgium certainly has all the elements of a perfect romantic setting. A stroll through its narrow streets make you step back in time, its many canals are perfect for the moonlight boat ride with the melodies of Moonriver gently playing in the background.

I visited this city for the first time way back in 1997 and it is still a favorite after many trips thereafter. A week before Christmas, we were back again for the Christmas market and a much needed me-time after very busy months both on the home and work fronts.

Because Bruges is a very popular tourist destination, the weekend before Christmas is always very busy. Scouring the internet for hotel deals was quite a pain as even very small 2 or 3 star hotels were just too pricey at around the Eur 200+ price range. We found another option which turned out to be a great alternative — airbnb.com. We stayed for two nights at a renovated old house just a few yards away from the city centre. Weather was unusually warm (close to 10 degrees Celsius) so we enjoyed our evening walks without freezing.

Bruges by all accounts, has many things to offer — Chocolates and pralines, hand-woven laces, amazing choices of beers, etc.

The Mr. and me in Bruges

The Mr. and me in Bruges

Canals at night

Canals at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges

Bruges

Bruges

Bruges

Romantic canals and bridges

Romantic canals and bridges

Bruges

Bruges

Centuries-old buildings

Centuries-old buildings

One can explore the city on horse-driven carriage

One can explore the city on horse-driven carriage

Centuries-old buildings

Centuries-old buildings

Canals

Canals

A favorite bridge

A favorite bridge

Boat rides

Boat rides

Us

Us

Signage at the entrance of the Begijnhof

Signage at the entrance of the Begijnhof

The Begijnhof was the place where women and children stayed while the men went on to fight in the Holy Land during the Crusades.  Today, nuns are its residents.

The Begijnhof was the place where women and children stayed while the men went on to fight in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Today, nuns are its residents.

Inside the church in the Begijnhof

Inside the church in the Begijnhof

The market square

The market square

One of the many streets leading to the market square

One of the many streets leading to the market square

Chocolates and pralines for which the Belgians are known for the world over

Chocolates and pralines for which the Belgians are known for the world over

A few of the hundreds of beer choices

A few of the hundreds of beer choices

Belgian beer

Belgian beer

Belgian beers

Belgian beers

Beer flavored cheese

Beer flavored cheese

Beer-flavored eggnog

Beer-flavored eggnog

Belgian pralines

Belgian pralines

Cupcakes

Cupcakes

Horse-drawn carriages near the Begijnhof

Horse-drawn carriages near the Begijnhof

Bruges

Bruges

Hand-woven Bruges laces

Hand-woven Bruges laces

One of the many churches in the city

One of the many churches in the city

Us

Us

Wines and macaroons in Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

France is simply one country which has everything for any traveler. To those who love the water, there is the cold Atlantic coast on the west side and the balmy Mediterranean in the south. Height lovers can go for either the Alps or the Pyrenees, those who love the cosmopolitan life had choices of Paris or the Riviera and those who love the tranquil life in the countryside had plenty of choices too. Vineyards, orchards, gardens, lavender fields, flower fields are endless and so are the chateaus and manors.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely town of Saint-Emilion. Listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Saint-Emilion’s history goes back to prehistoric times with fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins. About 32 kilometers northeast of Bordeaux, it is a very popular tourist destination because aside from having that step back in time, it is also famous for its red wines and macaroons.

The drive to Saint-Emilion was a very pleasant experience, passing through gentle hills of vineyards and bewitching sunflower fields. Parking was quite a challenge in this small town but despite a bit of a walk from the parking to the town centre, we enjoyed the stroll through its narrow streets that seemed as old as time.

We did not have a fix agenda of things to do so we had a leisurely lunch at a restaurant on the foot of the hill leading to the King’s Castle Keep. Nothing fancy, we had the “plat du jour” on offer which consisted of a salad, main course and dessert. French meal never disappoint for even in their simplest, they are still top notch.

After lunch, we were off to do the sightseeing bit with hubby and daughter opting to climb the King’s Castle Keep which with its 118 steps was quite something for the little girl. She was so proud of this accomplishment.

Before leaving town, I made sure to get myself a dozen of various flavored macaroons. While Laduree is being extolled in Paris as the mecca for macaroons, Saint-Emilion is said to be the birth place of this simple almond biscuit when they were first made in 1620 by Les Ursulines, a small community of nuns who resided in the village.

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

One of the many wine cellars

One of the many wine cellars

The road leading to "The King's Castle's Keep"

The road leading to “The King’s Castle’s Keep”

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbing the King's Castle Keep

Father and daughter climbing the King’s Castle Keep

Our family

Our family

Sunflower fields along the way

Sunflower fields along the way

Vineyards

Vineyards

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Salad

Salad

Entrecote steak with fries

Entrecote steak with fries

Main course of the plat du jour

Main course of the plat du jour

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Ice cream dessert

Ice cream dessert

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

Church interior

Church interior

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

Narrow street

Narrow street

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Museum

Museum

My little girl

My little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Raspberry macaroons

Raspberry macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Rose macaroons

Rose macaroons

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