A Travellerspoint blog

Playground of the rich and famous

And another rendezvous with my dear friend Corinne!

Just thinking about our trip to Saint Tropez sends me into hysterics. It was by far one of the most action packed and highly entertaining few days that I have had in a long time. Julz and I spent the majority of the time in fits of laughter. If you remember my friend Corinne that I met while I was in Udaipur (India), she had kindly offered for me to come and stay with her in her lovely home in Saint Tropez while I was passing through the South of France. With an offer like that, how could I refuse?

Saying that Corinne is a character is an understatement. There are no words to describe this fun loving and generous woman. She is so full of life and such a young spirit (and probably one of the funniest people that I have ever met). She is the life of any party, a phenomenal cook (Julz and I have both said that we regretted not having a cooking class with her while we stayed) and a very warm person. Her English is much better than my French, but there still is/was some communication misunderstandings. She has the best outlook on life and her response to just about everything, said in a very husky (she's a big time smoker) French voice is "Of course! Why not?! Obligatory!" (also said in a very exclaimed manner). It is absolutely hilarious, and this quickly became Julz and I's motto (and Jacko's too) for the rest of the trip anytime anyone made any kind of comment about, well, anything!

On Corinne's advice, we took the bus from St. Raphael to Saint Tropez. Corinne informed us that she would pick us up from the bus station, which seemed like a relatively straight forward task, but in reality, it was not nearly as seamless as it probably could have been. The perils of neither of us being fluent in the others' language! It all began with the bus, as we were instrusted to get off before the main St. Tropez station but weren't exactly sure which station to get off at as we could hardly hear what the driver was saying over the audio guide. After several "false alarm" bell rings (I thought the bus driver was going to kick me off the bus), we finally found the "right" stop, which appeared to be in a shelter in the middle of nowhere. It was off of a main road, so we certainly weren't worried about our safety, but there was not a parked car in sight. Hmmmm, so where was Corinne? Fortunately, I had spied a Maccas about 800m before we found our stop. I was desperately needing to pee so thought it would be a good excuse to run to Maccas, use the facilities, and then hijack the free wee-fee to get back in touch with Corinne to see if we were in the right spot. I left Julz at the bus stop and instructed her that if a tall French woman with short black hair who is very expressive shows up, it is probably Corinne and to let her know that I will be right back. Once I finally arrived at Maccas, I was able to get on the wee-fee and get in touch with Corinne. It seemed that both of us had slightly different ideas of where we were supposed to be. The poor thing had been driving around to every bus stop she knew of trying to find us for the past twenty minutes! Of course I had no idea where we were, all I was able to manage to tell her was that I was currently at a McDonalds. Luckily for us, she knew where we probably were and was able to pull up to the right Maccas. After a very theatrical French greeting with lots of cheek kisses and hugs (and Corinne exclaiming lots of things in French - no idea what she said!), we were out of Maccas and on the hunt to pick up Julz who was patiently waiting for us at the bus stop.

Corinne lives near St. Tropez, in a town about 10kms away in the hills that surround an area called Cavalaire. The sceneary was gorgeous and very different from what we had previously seen in the South of France. It is far more country and remote compared to the likes of Cannes, Monaco and Nice. I certainly preferred it (I am after all a country girl at heart).

As soon as we arrived in her lovely home, the amazing host that she is, began whipping up quite the luncheon for us. As I mentioned earlier, perhaps it cannot be emphasized enough, Corinne is a phenomenal cook! We had delicious lamb chops, green beans and bread followed by a lemon tart for dessert on her patio overlooking the Cavalaire bay. At that moment, I knew that I surely was not going to go hungry for the next few days (and will certainly be very hard for me to leave!). It was almost impossible not to go for a second helping of anything!

Following our late lunch, we ventured into the town and began our sight seeing adventures with wine tasting at La Madrague. Provence in France is famous for its rose wine and it is absolutely delcioius! Not like any rose I have had before, very pale in colour but ridiculously (and dangerously) easy to drink. Corinne bought us a box for our stay (hmmm...overstatement slightly for two nights?!) and then we went to go visit her work, which was a stunning hotel that overlooked one of the bays (Hotel Soleious). It was absolutely beautiful and is surprisingly only open three months of the year. As you can imagine, they clean up big time during those three months! The views were spectacular.

We then spent the early evening walking around Cavalaire, which is a very small village. We had a drink at Les Rhumerie and returned to her house for dinner. Corinne made the most incredible spaghetti bolognaise I have ever eaten in my life. Julz and I both had multiple servings and were bursting at the end of it! But well worth the pain.

The following morning, we had a very lazy start with a lovely breakfast on the terrace. I really could get used to this view. We feasted on bread and local Provencal jams which were accompanied by bowls of coffee (I finally got up the nerve to try it)! As I mentioned in my Paris post, I have never seen anything like it but it is apparently very common in France. As an avid coffee drinker (well, a once coffee addict that is now back off the wagon since being in Europe), I was quite pleased as it was delicious and a lot of fun to drink out of a bowl. I felt like I was breaking all of the rules in dining etiquette. What a rebel!

Following breakfast, we drove into St Tropez village and met her friend Patrick for a drink. Patrick, a Saint Tropez native who is one of Corinne's oldest friends, was the epitome of everything that I thought a middle aged French man would be. He was well dressed, very charming, witty, and sat with us very nonchalantly smoking his cigar as we chatted. His English was decent, but it wasn't too long before the foursome had paired off to speaking their native tongues (sometimes you just get tired of thinking of "other ways" to say something). Between Patrick's cigar and Corinne's cigarettes, Julz and I could not looked less French sitting in that cafe as we patiently sipped our beers (and discretely gasped for fresh air).

St. Tropez is a lovely quaint village, and as you can imagine, full of all the high end shops! Great for some fabulous window shopping. There is a population of 4,000 people, and between June and August, it grows ten fold! I could not imagine what that would be like and quite frankly, I don't think I would enjoy it. Apparently the traffic is horrendous and can take over an hour to travel 400 metres on the sole road that leads to Saint Tropez. Brutal. The harbour is full of enormous mega yachts and it is most definitely a place to be seen and rub shoulders with the mega rich and famous. Clearly the rich and famous don't have to worry about the traffic, they can always fly their helicopters on their mega yachts!

Following our jaunt in the village, we headed out to where all of that action was - the beach! We spent the afternoon at Bagatelle renting a mat for 25E for three hours. Amazing people watching! The prices of drinks were obscene, as you can imagine, but it was well worth the experience!

That evening Corinne invited one of her friends, Nelly, a young girl from Lyon who recently moved to Cavalaire and stayed at her place for a few months upon arrival, for dinner. Nelly is an increidbly talented architect and it was so lovely to speak to her about her work and see some of the projects that she has created! In true French fashion, we again had a lovely homecooked meal of ratatouille, roasted chicken, green salad, rice and bread. INCREDIBLE!

The evening happened to "get away from us" slightly. It began with some very nice champagne, followed by mowing through quite a few bottles of rose (we were technically responsible for finishing the case in three days! Not sure what Corinne was thinking? We got nowhere near it!). Before we knew it, Corinne had begun a dance party in her living room. She had music blaring and we were all rocking out to a variety of music, some old, some new, and some very French. It was probably one of the most random and funniest nights that I have had since I have started travelling. Corinne, a nondrinker, sure knows how to get a party started! We danced for hours and somewhere along the lines, she was teaching the three of us the Charleston. As I basically have two left feet, I was pretty useless, but it was fun flapping around giving it a bash. Moments like this, when Corinne had more energy than probably the three of us combined brought so much colour to how I imagined her in her youth. She had told us countless stories of her escapades as a young woman, and she certainly sounded like a force to be reckoned with. Someone that I definitely would have liked to have partied with!

Once the lounge room disco had closed down (it was going for an impressive solid few hours), Corinne was off to bed but encouraged us to go out with Nelly in Cavalaire. It was a school night, well technically not for us, so what did we care! We ventured out on the town to the only pub that seemed to have any life in it. Coincidentally, Nelly met some boys that were from Lyon and they had some friends in common. Friends of friends soon became friends of ours and we spent the next few hours solidly glued to the dance floor boogying away to a very eclectic line up of music. Such an unexpected but brilliant night! Julz and I finally stumbled in at about 3.30am and as you can imagine, were very tired the next day.

In true Corinne fashion, once we had woken up, she could not mask her surprise that we had even come home. She said that if that was her when she would young, she probably would have ended up partying until the sun came up on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean. And that she was fully prepared to drive around trying to find us the next morning for our bus to Avignon. What a character. And this is why I love Corinne - what a wild woman!

We chowed down on a quick breakfast and then Corinne took us to the bus stop. I will forever be grateful to Corinne for her generous hospitality (and to introducing us to her lovely friends). She truly spoiled us rotten during our visit. I just hope one day (Julz and I were pleading with her) that she comes back to Australia (she is very well travelled - my hero in that respect) so that perhaps some of you can meet her. She is fabulous.

Hope this finds you well, wherever you are in the world.

Mel xx

The breathtaking view of Cavalaire Bay from Corinne's home. Being up in the countryside like this was like being in your own sanctuary. So relaxing and so peaceful. I could have sat on her terrace all day and just stared out at the view.
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Wine tasting at La Madrague! I have never been an avid rose drinker, I will have the occasional glass during the summer when it is very hot, but the rose from Provence is like nothing I have ever tasted before! It is so unbelievably easy to drink! Perhaps a little too easy...
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The girls out front of La Madrague!
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Cavalaire Bay. It was very blowy! Great kiteboarding conditions though.
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The mega yachts of St. Tropez and as ridiculous as it sounds, they are a dime a dozen! Unbelievable!
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Teeny tiny St. Tropez village.
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Corinne & I.
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View of the St. Tropez area from a lookout point Corinne brought us to.
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One of the main squares in St. Tropez. Lots of petanque is played here!
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The House of Dior. You can come here for drinks or to eat at the restaurant. It looked amazing! We just felt a tad underdressed to go there so swiftly moved on.
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The marina at St. Tropez. May is still considered a slow time in this area. I would hate to see it in August! Must be an absolute zoo.
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Mega yacht.
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The beach itself did not impress me at all, but what did impress me was the restaurants and bars that lined the beach. Surprisingly, Nikki Beach, which is famous for its beachside party atmosphere, isn't really on the beach like I had imagined (a good 300m away!). We opted for Bagatelle, which was on the beach and offered some great entertainment! Prices for a lounger is extortionate but was worth the splurge as we got hours of entertainment people watching while we slowly sipped on our 20 Euro wines (ouch!). Corinne made friends with our server so we got exceptional service all afternoon long. Getting in with the locals is the way to go! And she knew how to work it...
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The ladies on the loungers. I wanted to take some photos of the other directions of the loungers but there were some topless bathers so didn't feel it was appropriate. It was quite the set up though! We had a DJ going all afternoon, there were swimsuit models parading around in a fashion show and there were some big dogs that were partying like they were in their early 20s! Fantastic atmosphere...and it was only the early afternoon!
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Corinne & I with our drinks.
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The dance party. Started by the non-drinker! This depicts how fun she is. Quite an embarrassing story on my part, when I was trying to tell Julz about Corinne, I was really emphasising how much fun we had out at dinner one night in India (we went through quite a few drinks and were laughing all night long). So when the question came as to what we should get as a thank you gift, the answer was simple. Booze. We both automatically defaulted to a really nice bottle of champagne (French people love champagne!). So you can imagine my surprise (and horror) when we proudly presented her the bottle of champagne, which she graciously accepted and then when we offered to pour her a glass, she told us she didn't drink! "WHAT?! You weren't drinking in Udaipur? I thought you were drinking vodka?" Clearly not. She has never touched a drink. Julz just laughed, but later, once she had gotten to know Corinne, she told me that she didn't blame me for just assuming she was drunk! That's just Corinne. So full of life.
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Posted by melpage 18:23 Archived in France Tagged saint tropez Comments (0)

Nice is sooooooooooo nice

And a jaunt to Monaco & Cannes...as you do!

And it's just the girls. As much as I love Jacko, it was certainly nice to have Julz all to myself for a week. We were still pinching ourselves that we were actually here in the South of France together. Seriously, who would have thought we would ever pull that off? Clearly Jacko was thinking the same thing as he reminded us on several occasions!

Julz and I had a very early start to our last day in Paris and were packed and out of the apartment a little after 7am. We made our way down the hills of Monmartre (thankfully down and not up this time!) and used the metro to get to Gare de Lyon. Our train was a leaving not long after 8.15am. The trains in France (and most of Western Europe) are fabulous. Clean, efficient and very comfortable. We happily got to our seats on the upper level (for prime viewing) and made ourselves comfortable for the five hour journey. There was still lots to catch up on and now that it was just the girls we didn't have to worry about the content of our chatter being gender exclusive and sending poor Jacko into a comatose state. The majority of the trip was filled with conversation and laughter.

The great thing about travelling by train (or bus) as opposed to flying is that it gives you an opportunity to see the countryside of the country while you are travelling. Even though we didn't stop in the towns, we still got to see some beautiful country villages and also got to see some really dodgy areas of Lyon & Marseilles - they always put the train station in the bad areas! Regardless of whether the area was nice or not, it was still great to see. In the past, as my trips were much shorter and under a time constraint, I always flew. But now, time is on my hands, and it is much cheaper and honestly a bit more interesting to travel by rail (or road). I certainly feel that I experience more of a country that way, anyway!

We arrived in Nice on an overcast day, but you could still certainly appreciate the beauty of the city. Just imagine what it would be like on a bright sunny day! From Gare de Nice Ville, we took a tram to our flat at Place Garibaldi. The location was fantastic as we were a stone throw away from the old town. Place Garibaldi was a very lively square that is filled with restaurants and cafes. An ideal place to call our home base.

Our flat on the other hand was another story. Very sleek and modern but essentially an over glorified shoebox. Julz and I (and baggage) could hardly fit in it and it was advertised to sleep four! Welcome to Europe. I don't know how four people could stand in there, let alone actually stay in there with luggage. Anyway, it didn't matter as we hardly spent time in the room. It just required a bit more organisational skills than I was accustomed to!

Following our life size game of Tetris (we had to try and jam our bags in any nook and cranny we could find so that we had enough room to actually walk around in the room!), we hit the streets. There was certainly no sense in hanging around in the shoebox all day. We made our way to a supermarket to pick up our picnic and headed up to the lookout at Parc de la Colline du Chateau. It was quite a climb to the lookout but well worth the burn (plus I really needed something to counteract the inordinate quantities of cheese and bread that I was habitually consuming). The view was stunning and we happily sat there for a few hours enjoying our pleasures (and guzzling our wine).

After the picnic, we made our way down the hill to walk along the promenade. It seemed that everyone was out walking along the promenade that evening. There were street performers, people having dance offs with a boombox, etc. One guy that I still laugh about was this bizarre man who was doing some kind of interpretive dance in costume (with a bumbag - really?). Anyway, he was definitely in the zone and really feeling the moment and just as we were passing, his music started to ramp up to a dramatic climax and with this he launched into giant leap, then twirled and concluded his repertoire with a huge karate kick that missed Julz's head by about an inch. For those that know me well, I have this horrible habit of laughing at the most inappropriate times, and this was one of them. I lost it! Thankfully Julz unscathed, and honestly didn't even realise what had happened until I told her in between fits of laughter. What an oddball. I am still kicking myself that I didn't take his photo (or better yet, film some of his moves!).

Following our stroll and near decapitation, we made our way back through the old town and called it a night. We were knackered! Travel days are always the most exhausting.

One great thing about the shoebox was that it got very bright early in the mornings so we didn't need to set an alarm. We started all of our days early in Nice ensuring that we maximised all of our time. There was a lot to do and see (we already extended our trip by a night after the first day) and we wanted to make sure that we saw everything that interested us. We made a quick pitstop at the local patisserie downstairs for a cafe au lait and croissant and then hit the roads to Matisse Musee. Unfortunately the map that we were using cut off before where the museum was located so we accidentally took the long way to get there which involved some enormous hills and windy roads. It wasn't until we got to the top that we realised there was actually a much shorter route that pedestrians could take that would cut through a park (we had followed the road signs for the cars, hence the lengthy route!). Aside from the minor glitch in arriving, the museum was very impressive, and better yet, free (yay!). I never realised that Matisse was a jack of all trades and dabbled in just about everything! There were paintings, sculptures, and also his famous "jazz" pieces (which is what I recognised him for).

As we had already clocked a few miles under the belt in getting to the museum, we decided we deserved a bus ride back to Gare Thieres to take the train to Monaco. Monaco is about a twenty minute journey from Nice and is a very picturesque journey as you spend the majority of the ride (when you aren't in a tunnel), on the coast. The beaches of the Cote d'Azur are absolutely divine! So blue, and so clear. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and the water was sparkling.

Despite only being a short journey to Monaco, there is definitely a big contrast between Nice (and its neighbouring villages) and Monaco. Monaco is full of huge sky scrapers that are surrounded by the Alps. Even though all of the buildings are built on top of each other and has very much a city feel to it, the setting is beautiful and one of a kind. There is also certainly no mistaking it for the home of the rich and famous! I have never seen so many luxury cars and shops in such a small area. We spent the afternoon walking around the city taking in all of the sights. Most notably, we visited the Monte Carlo casino which was very grand and then perched at Cafe de Paris for some of the best people watching (if you're into having a good gawk at the rich and famous in their fancy cars).

We made our way back to Nice shortly after 5pm and it seemed that so did everyone else in Monaco! It was a mass exodus of the city and our planned idea to get the bus back proved to be an epic fail so we trudged back to the train station and squeezed ourselves on to the train. The trains were just as bad as the buses, and we were all jammed in there like sardines. Fortunately it was a short ride!

We had dinner that evening in the old town at a restaurant called Chez Juliette. If you are ever in Nice, do yourself a favour and go there! The food was exquisite. Home cooked French meals that were prepared to order, which meant that the service was a bit on the slow side but was well worth the wait (and who was in any rush?!). The owners were lovely and we had a very romantic candle lit dinner for two.

We had another early start on our last full day in Nice and took the train to Cannes. What a stunning place! Two days late for the Cannes Film Festival (we seem to be developing a bit of a theme here with being one day late for the Monaco Grand Prix). Upon arrival, we first set off into the markets to buy cheese for our picnic. The markets were divine. All the food looked so fresh and exquisite. We then found a great patisserie and headed up to a lookout where we feasted on our meal with an incredible view of Cannes. Following lunch, we walked down to the promendade.

One thing that stuck both Julz and I about many of the coastal towns in France as odd was the fact that there are very few restaurants on the beaches. The French seem to not be as big into it as I thought they would be. They apparently have a different set of priorities than Australians, who worship the water and any restaurant would kill to have a seaside view. The French clearly prefer a people watch in the square. We saw a few seaside eateries and bars throughout our travels but not nearly as many as we would have thought considering the lovely coastline!

Following Cannes, we went back to Nice for another picnic on the pebbles and then did our final walk along the promenade (well, for now anyway!). This time the sun was out so you could see the clear bright blue and turquoise water. Just breathtaking! The pebbled beach was interesting and very different to what I am accustomed to. I much prefer our white sand, but it was nice for a change. At least the pebbles were smooth!

We had a very low key dinner that evening in one of the squares in the old town and called it an early night. We had another early start in the morning, and were taking a train to St. Raphael, and on our way to see my friend Corinne in St. Tropez. I was beyond excited!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

Nice:

No exaggeration. This is Julz's pull-out couch bed that was in our lounge room/kitchen. There was no room for anything else! We had to put all of our bags in the hallway so that she could lay down, which meant that when I was upstairs, I could not put the ladder down to go to the bathroom! Quite comical, luckily I made it through all three nights without having to have a midnight loo break. Aside from the lack of space (which really wasn't an issue as we were hardly in the room!) the location was perfect.
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Me upstairs in my bed "locked" away and laughing my head off as Julz was trying to set up her bed. It was that kind of "I can't breathe" laughter that we were having that is common when what you are laughing about really isn't that funny, but I guess you had to be there?! Good times for sure.
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View of Nice from Parc de la Colline du Chateau. It wasn't the clearest of days but the view was breathtaking!
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Hello Julz! Still at Parc de la Colline du Chateau.
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More.
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The famous pebbles! Quite a different experience than sand but I didn't mind it. Poor Julz had to do a mad dash to chase after some garbage at one point during one of our picnics so she can attest to the fact that pebbles really hurt your feet!
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The beautiful coastline (Parc de la Colline du Chateau is the hill in the background).
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Old town of Nice.
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More Old town.
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View from our apartment of Place Garibaldi (definitely well worth the squeeze!). We were located just outside of the old town.
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Even the pigeons eat croissants! And who can blame them?!
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Monaco:

View of Port de Fontvieille...look at those boats!
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They really pack you in there! View of Monaco. All the buildings are surrounded by the Alps and are essentially on top of each other. Beautiful skyline though!
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The race track! We were one day late, but walked part of it in honour of it. So many tight turns, I can't imagine it is a very easy course to navigate! Nice car
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View from Place du Palais. Stunning!
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More of Monaco.
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Monte Carlo Casino! Julz and I perched outside the casino at Cafe de Paris and watched as the rich and famous cruised by in their fancy cars. Amazing people watching! The price of our wine was a bit of a kick in the guts but it was well worth it once you factored in the included "entertainment". So many high rollers!
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Cannes:

We're late! One day shy of the Cannes Film Festival. Just catching the red carpet being rolled up! Still, it was great to see it, very impressive. What a beautiful town!
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Marche Forville (markets). Have you ever seen more beautiful fruits and vegge?! We shopped here for our picnic. Unfortunately we are on the staple diet of bread, cheese and wine so didn't pick up any of these gems. We really should have though!
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The perfect fruits of Marche Forville.
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View of Cannes from Notre Dame de l'Esperance & Musee de la Castre.
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Me at view of Vieux Port.
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Julz and our picnic.
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Check out those mega yachts! There is some serious money in Cannes!
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Somewhere along Plages de la Croisette. Beautiful beach!
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Posted by melpage 05:50 Archived in France Tagged nice cannes monaco Comments (1)

Oui, Oui Paris!

Almost ten years later and the pact has come to fruition! Who thought that would ever happen?!

The decision to come to France in my thirtieth year (or I guess it is technically my thirty first year) was made long before I decided to embark upon what I commonly like to refer to as my matured aged gap year. About eight years prior, Julz and I were perched in a park in Prague drinking a bottle of wine using shot glasses (apparently it was how they did in Switzerland, where she was at the time working as an au pair) watching the world go by when one of us, and I cannot quite remember who, had the genius idea that we should get together for our thirtieth birthdays and go to the South of France. We had both always dreamed of going to the South of France and what better way to ring in the dirty thirty! With a clink of our glasses the pact was made. We both agreed that regardless of marital status, children (neither of us was allowed to be pregnant for the trip), we were going. After all, it would certainly defeat the purpose of being in the home of wine and soft cheeses to not be able to indulge!

I had arrived in Paris on a very dreary Wednesday morning at around 6am. Half asleep and feeling a little strung out, one of my bus companions and I, Marialuisa, happened to be staying at the same hostel, so we trudged off into the Parisian metro system in the hopes of finding our hostel. Marialuisa is from Chile and fortunately (for me) learned French in high school so I was very lucky to use her as my crutch in figuring out where we were going (and better yet, I could remain half unconscious). We finally found our hostel, only to find out that neither of our beds were going to be available until 1pm at the absolute earliest. At that stage, we were both crashing pretty hard and beginning to become quite desperate for a sleep. After consult with the front desk, our only solution was to sleep downstairs on some very old and lumpy couches just outside of the laundry room (which was in a heavily trafficed hallway), not ideal, but was enough to help us rally.

I didn't do too much on my first day in Paris (basically shifted from the lumpy couch to my dorm bed at around 1pm), and slept through until dinner. It was still pouring outside and I managed to brave the wet and cold to run to the nearest restuarant I could find. Indian. It had been a long time and surprisingly I really missed it (delicious, but still not nearly as good as the real deal!). Full and satisfied, I made another mad dash back to the hostel, had a quick vino at the bar, and went back to bed. I really should be a professional sleeper.

The following morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast with Marialuisa at the hostel (baguette and nutella...yum! I love France!), bid her a quick farewell (I will probably see her when I get to Chile) and got my bags and ran. The big day was finally here and I had two very important and likely very jet-lagged dates who were waiting for me. The apartment that we had rented was a couple of stops on the train from Garre du Nord and I was able to use Julz's directions with ease to locate the apartment in Monmarte on Rue Chappe. I must have been making quite a bit of noise on the stairs because as I got to the top, the door magically opened and I barelled through prepared to give who I assumed was Adam (at a first glance he was very tall, MUST be Jacko!) a gigantic hug. I was half way committed to giving the giant embrace (and let's be honest, I was also excitedly squealing) when I did a double take and discovered that this was not in fact Jacko. It was clear that I had beat them to the apartment and it was actually the nice bloke that we were renting from. In a slightly awkward manner, I attempted to lessen the enthusiasm in my embrace and greeted our host in the typical French way. He didn't seem to be too phased by my greeting, but I could feel myself blushing. What an entrance.

About half an hour later, Julz and Jacko came through the door and I was finally able to welcome them the same way I attempted to welcome our host. It was so great to be reunited again. Poor Jacko probably wasn't able to get a word in for the first 20 minutes. Julz and I had so much to tell each other, we were blurting out our random stories haphazardly which probably made no sense to an outsider, but to us we were back in sync. I miss her so much.

A couple of showers later and the Jackos were ready to hit the streets. Julz had informed me that our friend Haley and her new husband, Jon, who were honeymooning in France (it was all over Facebook...I LOVED tracking their adventures) were now in Paris (something I didn't realise) and we were going to swing by to catch up with us that afternoon before they took the train to London. Funnily enough, the honeymooners were actually renting an apartment in the same area one street over. Such a small world! Haley and Jon were feeling a tad seedy after a bit of a rowdy dinner party the night prior and were in need of a feed so Haley suggested that we head to Angelinas for a late breaky/lunch. Angelina's is a famous tearoom that started in Paris and serves all kinds of decadent French delicacies. I enjoyed a feta and spinach quiche and a hot chocolate. It was by far the best quiche and hot chocolate of my life. The French really know their food (warning, I will probably repeat this sentence hundreds of times as I document the gastronomical experience of France - so get used to it). It really blew me away.

Following lunch, we bid au revoir and bon voyage to the honeymooners and in an attempt to keep the jet-lagged Jacko's awake, set off to venture through Paris on foot. We visited the Musee d'Orsay which is seriously impressive and is housed in an old railway station. Exquisite. I highly recommend a look. On the way home we grabbed a drink and had a wander through the streets of Le Marais at the recommendation of one of Julz's colleagues that knew Paris well. One turned into two, but we pulled the pin before the third. Drinking too much with jet-lag is a sure way to prematurely fall asleep and ruin your chances on getting on the correct time zone (unless you are a professional sleeper of course!). We headed back to Monmarte for an Italian dinner (we figured that we had tonnes of time for the traditional French foods) and then took a quick tour of Montmartre at the top of the hill which gave us an amazing view of the city.

The following morning we woke up early (perils of jet-lag!) and managed to stumble across an amazing local bakery for breakfast. The smells that came from Coquettcot were divine, and it was certainly a case of "just follow your nose" to find it. I had the best croissant that I had while in France (big statement here as I ate A LOT of croissants...almost daily for three weeks!) and a cafe au lait. It wasn't long after we sat down that we began to notice that there were a few odd things happening at the table across the way, a woman seemed to be drinking out of a bowl as if she was drinking out of a cup - very strange! We later noticed that basically the entire restuarant was doing the same. It wasn't until we ordered our coffees and were asked if we wanted a cup or a bowl that we put two and two together. While I do love a good coffee, I am not sure my nervous system could handle the influx of caffeine that would be generated from an entire bowl of coffee (not to mention running to the loo constantly!).

Following brekkie, we made our way to Place de Saint Michel for the free walking tour. We spent the next three hours wandering around the streets of Paris in the periodic patter of rain. Aside from the intermittent downpours, it was a lovely tour and gave us a quick overview of the notable sites within the city. Luckily, Paris is so beautiful that it is just as photogenic in the rain!

After the tour, we made our way to the Eifel Tower where we met my friend Andrew. Andrew is a mate of mine from Bermuda. We worked together at PwC and spent more time than I would like to admit being cooped up in an audit room together. Fortunately, he is an absolute character and I loved every minute! He left Bermuda earlier this year and started his MBA in Paris. As you can imagine, he absolutely loves it and I am insanely jealous of all his fabulous stories. As the weather was a bit iffy and it was a bit windy, Andy took us to Place des Vosges which was an immaculate Parisian park that was in Le Marais and conveniently was surrounded by buildings so protected from the wind! We feasted on some delicious cheese, French bread sticks (Andy took us to his favourite patisserie...it was AMAZING!), chorizo, fig jam and a peach tart. Interestingly enough, it is the oldest square in Paris and Victor Hugo once resided there. How's that for a bit of shoulder rubbing?! Andy also introduced us to one of my top five favourite spreads of all time (yes, I have a list!), called Speculoos which is really hard to describe but if you can imagine a ginger nut biscuit that is liquified. Anyway, it tastes phenomenal on French bread (granted, anything would!).

Post our Parisian picnic party, Andy then took us to the Pompidou (it's fun to say!), for top deck view. We got an amazing view of the city. We didn't get inside the Pompidou as it was cutting into our drinking budget, but a very interesting fact about the building is that it houses all of the piping and insulation and escalators on the outside allowing for maxium wall space for art work (essentially the building is inside-out). I'd imagine it would be pretty impressive on the inside.

Our final full day in Paris was a bit interesting. It was by far the most challenging day in more ways than one. We had planned to take the train out to Versailles (which was about a 45 minute ride) to tour the palace and picnic in the royal gardens. It seemed like a brilliant full-proof plan until the hiccups arrived. The weather was not cooperating at all, we had managed to leave behind our corkscrew for our bottle of red (needed that for our Versailles garden picnic party - MP's fault - sorry team!), the amazing food markets that we planned to shop at for the picnic were shut on Saturdays to be replaced with a sub par clothing market, and finally, we walked for miles in the rain trying to find a grocery store so that we can get our picnic organised (all we had managed to bring was the amazing Speculoos spread (I was the only true blue fan) and the fig jam). And of course the corked bottle of red. Not ideal. After a few trials and tribulations (and dummy spits), and once the weather dried up a bit, we managed to sort out our picnic. It was a success. Hurrah for screw top bottles!

Aside from our string of set backs and comedic errors, the day finally turned around once we got into the palace and the gardens. Versailles is absolutely stunning and definitely worth a look. The pictures certainly don't do it justice.

We had a very quiet night that evening as we had an start the following morning. Jacko was on his way to London to go visit some mates (and quite frankly have some man time, the poor bloke!) and Julz and I were off to Nice to begin our girls trip in the Côte d'Azur...it is going to be a fabulous week!

Lots of love to you, wherever it is in the world you are!

Mel xx

Julz, Haley & I out the front of Angelina's. Coco Chanel was rumoured to have a hot chocolate here every day. Of course we tried it (Haley is a chocolate fiend like me, perhaps more so, if that is even possible?!). It was by far the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life, so rich, but so delicious. I'm not sure why the boys didn't join in this photo...oh well, their loss!
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The love lock bridge. A lot of pressure to put on a relationship! As you can imagine, the bridges in France get filled with these locks very quickly and the council will have to come around and cut off the locks. So as poetic as it seems to lock your love to a bridge, it won't last...
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A beautiful building that we discovered during our walk through Le Marais, a beautiful neigbourhood.
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Saint Pierre du Montmartre at the top of Montmartre.
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Julz & Jacko with the Parisian skyline...stunning!
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Me in front of the statue at Place St. Michel (the beginning of our free walking tour). Oddly enough, we had the same guide that Julz and Jacko had touring through Paris three years ago! Clearly being a freelance tour guide is quite lucrative! Nancy was excellent though, and definitely deserved every Euro she received.
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Beautiful Paris. I don't care what you think about Parisians (I actually found them a lot nicer this time around than my first visit!), but the city of Paris has to be one of the most (if not the most) architecturally beautiful cities in the world. Stunning.
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Musee du Louvre. Julz & I.
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Somewhere within Jardin des Tuileries.
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The three amigos (or Jacko and his wife and mistress...that's a later story for another entry!) in front of the Eifel Tower...a Parisian icon.
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Andy Bear & I in front of the Eifel tower.
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Our first (and one of many) picnics in the park! Andrew brought us to this stunning park in Le Marais, which we had already seen and admired the prior day, funnily enough. It was great to have him show us the ropes of picnicking in Paris (it's seriously an art form!). He took us to his favourite bakery where we had the best baguette of the trip and some of the most delicious cheeses I have ever tasted. We tried fig jam with our cheese and bread (highly recommend...thanks for the tip KvK!) and Andy introduced me to Speculoos which is best described as a liquified version of a gingerbread biscuit (sort of). Anyway, it is absolutely delicious and I soon discovered that is was almost as dangerous to me as peanut butter...the jar was just not safe anywhere within arms reach! Of course no picnic is complete without a bottle (or let's be honest...two or three wines!). We are in Europe afterall and drinking in a park with my best mate is definitely one of my favourite pastimes.
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The beautiful Parisian skyline on a rainy day from the top of the Centre Pompidou. We didn't actually go inside the museum itself, but you can get to the top floor for a viewing (and a visit to the restaurant) for free. The Pompidou is quite amazing as the functional aspects of the building (pipes, etc) are all on the outside which allows for more room for the contemporary artwork on the inside. In comparison it is a bit of an eye sore to the rest of the Parisian architecture but I happen to love it. It's abstract and is certainly one of the most unique buildings that I have ever seen! As you can imagine there was great controversy regarding its erection as many people argued that it destroyed the Parisian theme. Regardless, it's worth a look and I've heard it's incredible inside. We opted for the Musee D'Orsay and spent our culture budget on that visit. Next time, I will certainly check this out!
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Versailles. Somewhere inside the beautiful Palace.
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Inside the Palace again.
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And again. The pictures really do not do it justice!
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Look at all that gold! The outside (courtyard area) of the Palace.
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The initial (and failed) attempt that having a picnic within the Royal Gardens. About one nano second after we had unpacked our picnic and poured a glass of wine each (we may have just finished toasting actually!), a security guard came up to us and told us "You must take your pleasures elsewhere". Slightly bewildered about what he meant by "pleasures", officer, I assure you there is certainly no menage a trois going on here! And then I remembered I was in France, where the simple things in life were considered a pleasure. And this is why I love the French! We happily packed up our picnic and relocated to the public part of the gardens (where there was no marble!) and enjoyed our pleasures.
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Marie Antoinette's estate.
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The Palace from afar.
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The immaculate Royal Gardens.
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Posted by melpage 18:13 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (1)

So much more than coffee shops and the Red Light District

Third time around's a charm...

Funnily enough this isn't my first rodeo in Amsterdam, so to speak. This will now have been my third time, which unless you frequent the activities that it is known for, it seems a tad excessive. Not to say I didn't do what any tourist does in the 'dam when they visit! I most certainly did, it's just not the sole reason I visit(ed). The first time was during a Contiki tour, and as any 18 year old would do, you party your way through Europe (Amsterdam was certainly an ideal place for that!). The second, was with my best friend Julz, as I loved it the first time and thought she would too (and she did!). And the third, as I am in Europe and a great friend of mine is living there, it would be rude not to go and say hello! Plus I was very excited to see the real Amsterdam. I wanted to see what the locals do. Afterall, less than 20% of Amsterdammers take part in what the 'dam is known for. So there has to be something more...right?

I've always thought that Amsterdam is an incredibly livable city, and as proved by this visit, I am not wrong (I definitely could live here...and just might when I'm done!). Granted, I was extremely blessed with the weather. It was apparently the best long weekend in a very long time (rivaling the summer months!). It's also a very clean city. Everyone seems very happy and there is no one causing too much of a ruckus. What I love about the Dutch are their views on laws. Sure they have them but you can break them as long as you are not causing yourself or anyone else harm or a disturbance in the process. In a way, the government seems to treat its citizens more like adults (if you were to put it into a child/teenager and parent context). Another very notable thing about the 'dam is that you hardly see any beggars (I don't think I saw one in my entire visit!) This was a huge contrast from Morocco, where there are many and also Brussels, which had a surprising number also.

Kelly (who I also call KvK because her full name is Kelly Van Krieken; yes she is Dutch!), is a friend of mine from the Bermuda days. She's a Kiwi who I met through the rugby team and as a fellow Antipodean, we got along famously. She's a very cool chick and so much fun; what's not to love?! She left Bermuda about four years ago and settled here with her partner Simon (who is a Saffa and also lived in Bermuda). They have recently purchased a flat not far from the central part of the city and very kindly offered up their couch for me to crash. Their home is a traditional Dutch building and is on the top floor (which is usually the third in most buildings). I had never been in a real Dutch home until then and the first thing that I noticed were how steep the stairs were. Oh my goodness! I didn't think I was going to be able to get up them, let alone get my foot on one of the steps (yes, my feet are large, but even an average size would struggle!). I had to maneuver myself so that my feet were going sideways up the stairs, it was ridiculous! Perils of being a tall person! KvK later informed me that these aren't even steep stairs comparably to other homes she has been to! I'd be in trouble. Even completely sober I thought I was going to fall face down! Yikes!!!

They bought the apartment with the intention of completely remodeling it and I have to say that it is exquisite! A very modern and sleek flat. As they are on the top floor, they also have the rights to the roof and will be converting their roof to a terrace later this summer. Simon took me up for a tour of the roof and it will be amazing once it is completed. Such a great perspective on the city. What a view! Certainly beats having rights to the backyard. I am definitely going to have to come back to the 'dam just so that I can have a Dutch beer on the roof!

KvK picked me up from the Amstelstation at around 7.15pm on Friday night. I was over an hour late but fortunately had wee-fee (I still can't stop laughing about this), on the bus so was able to inform her that we had run into some traffic leaving Brussels. The weather was absolutely brilliant (just like Brussels) and I was so happy to be reunited with KvK again. So much to catch up on! We took the tram back to hers to dump my bags and then went out for a bite. We visited one of her local eats, a lovely Italian restaurant, and spent a very chilled evening with a bottle of red and delicious Italian foods. When we got home, Simon was back from his trip to London (he does a commute sometimes), and we had another catch up over more red (a common theme with Bermuda folks!).

We awoke to an absolutely stunning morning that Saturday. As KvK and Simon had both had a rather rough week at work, we had a bit of a lazy morning before we decided to make plans for the day. Around noon we agreed upon an afternoon barbie (or braai for Simon) in Vondel Park, which was a stones through away from their flat. It had been ages since I've had a good old fashioned barbeque and I was more than excited! In preparation for this, KvK and I decided to walk down to one of the posh farmers markets in the neighbourhood to purchase some snacks. This place was heaven! Filled with all my favourite things, yummy cheeses, chocolates, breads and cured meats.

By the time we reached the park, it was heaving! The place was exploding with fellow picnic-ers and sun worshippers and finally after a solid hunt, we found a favourable spot to set up camp. We were later joined by Simon & KvK's friends Lyndell (Aussie), her partner Steve (Aussie), Steve's mate Andrew who was visiting from Australia, Nikki (England), John & his wife Sarah (American). It was such a fun (and very drunken afternoon - we went through some serious prosecco!) which later turned into a very drunken evening. Lots of laughs and great banter. A perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.

One thing that did strike me as quite remarkable was that considering the size of the crowd at the park, which were all drinking, there was not one police officer in sight! I was absolutely amazed. That would never happen in Australia (or a lot of other countries I know) as people just can't seem to control themselves. Yet another thing that I admire about the Dutch (and most European countries in general), they are civilised when drinking their alcohol in public.

Sunday began with a tasty brunch at Staring at Jakob (suitably named for it's location, the corner of Starting and Jakob street) over a deliciously spicy Bloody Mary (the perfect way to cure a fuzzy head!). Following brunch and with very full bellies, KvK and Simon took me on the locals version of a walking tour of the city. Amsterdam is not a very big city in itself and is quite easy to cover by foot (or even better by bike if you can brave the bike traffic. Amsterdammers are seriously aggressive on their bikes!) I definitely advise being aware of the bike lane at all times because these people fly through like you wouldn't believe!

We spent the afternoon walking up and down some beautiful canal streets in the city and Simon gave me a very informative spiel about the history of some of the landmarks (he really should run a tour...side job?!). We were sure to stay well hydrated on the way, sampling some of the delicious beers that were offered on tap at some of KvK & Simon's favourite watering holes. A very nice way to spend a lazy Sunday.

Probably one of the most random things that has happened on my travels occurred that afternoon. On our way home, we popped into one of those transitioning art galleries (they are up and coming I guess and rotate the various artists they feature, many of them are newer/unknown artists). Anyway, a common theme for while I have been travelling is people just automatically assuming that I am German when they see me (not really sure why? Never thought I looked German!) and I have had many instances where people will just speak to me in German, before English. Upon entering the gallery, the tall blonde (go figure, aren't they all?) gallery host began to greet and explain the premise of the gallery in Dutch. Of course I don't speak Dutch and did not have a clue what he was saying and managed to quickly call KvK over as maybe she had some idea. Once he heard my voice, he started laughing, and then in one of the thickest Australian accents I have ever heard, started talking to me about where he was from in Australia and what I was doing over here, etc. I was of course shocked, and certainly didn't expect someone that spoke such perfect Dutch (well, perfect to me) would turn out to be a true blue Aussie! Lesson learned. Don't judge a book by its cover.

The following morning I had a very cruisy start and made my way to the city centre for a bit of a shop (a rare occurrence these days, sadly! But the season was changing...bring on summer!) and then to Dam Square for a 2pm walking tour of Amsterdam. I had already done this tour on both of my previous visits, but it never hurts to hear a bit more about the history of the city you are visiting as quite often I find that information like this unfortunately goes in one ear and out the other in a short matter of time. It was a three hour tour that gave a brief overview of The Old Church, The Red Light District, The Jewish Quarter, the Royal Palace, The Jordaan District, The Anne Frank House, The Dutch East India Company, The Begijnhof Convent, Masterpieces of Dutch Art and the widest bridge and narrowest house (and I think we had the most crooked house thrown in there too!). Later that evening, in my best attempt to be a good houseguest (and work wife, haha!), I made dinner for KvK. Simon had again left for London for another week away. It was another relaxed evening.

On Tuesday, my last day, I spent the morning packing and getting organised for the trip and then hit the road for my final stint walking around the city. It was another gorgeous day and I certainly wanted to take advantage of it as I still had a few things I needed to do. I was yet to complete several of the recommendations that my friends Guus and Susan (my Dutch friends that I met in Morocco) had given to me. Most importantly (as emphasized by Guus) was to try a Frikandal Speciaal, which is essentially a deep-fried sausage that is served with fries (of course!) and slices of onion and your choice of all the various mayo-based sauces they offered. Susan wasn't a big fan of it, but I figured for Guus' sake, I must try it. I did enjoy it, but I don't think I will be rushing back to have one anytime soon. As I chewed my food, I felt as though I could hear my arteries clogging! Susan had recommended that I checked out a great little barista and cafe called Trust, which operates on the premise that you pay whatever you think it is worth. I liked the idea of this, and made my way over to de Pijp to check it out. Unfortunately, Tuesdays were a staff meeting day so I never got the chance. Next on the list was to go to Negen Straatjes, which is a great restaurant and shopping district (translates to nine streets, they are all relatively small side streets that are boxed in, so to speak). It was a fun little neighbourhood (again, great for people watching). Following the Guus & Susan box ticking exercise, I then, in true European fashion, spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing in Vondel Park. I made my way home at about 6pm and then finished up cleaning before I headed to the bus station.

Now, off to Paris where I will once again be reunited with my best friend Julz and her lovely hubby Jacko. I cannot wait to see them! I am like pee my pants excited!!!

Lots of love to you, wherever it is in the world you are.

Mel xx

KvK & Simon's lovely street...look at all those bikes!!! They are about three blocks from Vondel Park...fantastic location!
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The famous I Amsterdam sign! For anyone who has ever been in Amsterdam, you will know that this sign is constantly on the move. I think the last time I was here it was in front of the Heineken brewery. Now it is in Vondel Park and we spotted it on our way to the outdoor markets.
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KvK & I and a very woeful attempt at a selfie with the sign. It is honestly embarrassing how many times we had to attempt this and we still didn't do a very good job (this was by far the best one!). I don't know how the kids do it these days!
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The markets!
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More markets.
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Look at all that cheese! Yummmmm.
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Simon & KvK at the beginning of our picnic (before everyone else had arrived and before the unleashing of complete debauchery!). Quite civilised, ey? I don't have any photos of the aftermath...fortunately!
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Vondel Park was bumpin!
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A stand-up bbq...genius!
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Help! I can't find my bike!!!! Amsterdammers are amazing bikers. There is certainly an art to riding a bike here. As a pedestrian, I am way more alert and cautious about the bikes than the cars! And always look both ways when crossing the bike lane...
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I found this amusing...
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The beautiful canals.
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A very wonky house!
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More canals (and bikes!)
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And again (maybe I am starting up a bike/canal fetish to replace my door obsession!)
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One of the streets close to in De Pjip (I believe it may even be at the tail end of the market). De Pijp is a funky up and coming multicultural neighbourhood that is great for eats and drinks. There is also a daily market called Albert Cuypmarkt that sells everything from fresh seafood to jewellery. Susan and Guus highly recommended the area to go out in as it has a fun and relaxed atmosphere...they weren't lying!
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Sunbathing in Amsterdam? Folks, this is how it is done! I could have just stood and watched this bloke for days, haha! Thank goodness for a great zoom on my camera, it made me feel less of a total creep! The Dutch are the tallest race in the world, and let me tell you, have the highest proportion of good looking people that I have ever seen. It's unbelievable! Ok it is decided, I need to move here.
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FEBO! A Dutch institution. You essentially order your food out of a vending machine (and I mean burgers, fries, etc). Open 24 hours. I never tried (still in recovering mode after my Frikandel Speciaal!) it but definitely worth a look. Maybe on my next visit...
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Classic...
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A "quieter" Vondel Park. Just beautiful...
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Posted by melpage 04:26 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam Comments (0)

Well they certainly love a pissing statue!

Brussels, Gent & Brugge

First off, I would like to apologise for again being so slack in getting these posts out (I feel like this is starting to become a bit of a theme!). I am about three months behind, but rest assured over the next couple of weeks I will catch up. I am sitting here from my Grandparents kitchen in Connecticut typing these out using the notes that I've made on my iPhone as I have gone through (thank goodness I had the foresight to do this because my memory is not so great on all the finer details!). The good news is that I will be here for three weeks, so plenty of time to get caught up. I never realised how busy life is on the road. And I cannot tell you how good it feels to just sit still and have my own room for a solid period of time. Heaven! It really is the simple things in life.

Ah, Belgium. What a quirky but absolutely fantastic place. So much character and so much to see. The home of chocolate, Belgian waffles, an enormous array of Belgian beers and the makers of some seriously delicious frites; what is not to love!

My trip to Brussels was more or less a spur of the moment decision. After my week of relaxing and recuperating in Essaouira, I finally got a bit of time to plan more of my summer travelling. I honestly never expected planning and keeping up with a blog to be so much work. I didn't realise how busy my schedule would be and when I did have downtime, sometimes the last thing I felt like doing was "thinking". So my time in Essaouira of doing absolutely nothing, was most definitely necessary. I needed to get a plan to leave of Morocco, and quite frankly, plan my way through Europe as everything was (and still is) up in the air. Too many people and places to see/visit! I knew I wanted to go to Amsterdam to see my friend Kelly, a mate who had been living in the 'dam for the past four years but I had already been there twice before so probably didn't need more than a few days to visit. So what next? I wanted to go somewhere I'd never been, but where? The stars were aligned my friends, and I found a very reasonable fare direct from Casablanca straight into Brussels. It was an obvious choice (of course even more obvious before considering the cheap fare if you were to just factor in all my Belgian "loves" listed above!).

My friend Bethan used to live in Brussels a few years ago, so when I got in touch with her about the "must dos", the amazing girl that she is was not only able to hook me up with a great to do list while I was there, but also a friend of hers' place! Her mate was out of town for work and kindly offered up her apartment. The location was fantastic, I stayed in a great little area called Place Flagey which was about a 20 minute walk from the city centre if you were hustling. But what was the rush? We all know, I have plenty of time on my hands :)

I didn't get to the apartment on the first night until almost 8.30pm. I was pretty wiped from travelling. I had to be up very early in Casablanca as the airport was at least 30km outside of the city. It was a bit of a nightmare getting there to be honest! I took a train from the airport, and then a tram to Place Flagey. Ciara, one of Bethan's friends, met me with the keys to the place and I was settled. I walked around Flagey for a bit, grabbed a Chinese takeaway and some wine and headed home. Not long after, I was full and feeling sleepy. Off to bed.

I had a slower start than anticipated that morning. I have this terrible habit of setting my alarm for pm when I am trying to make myself get up early. So after I "accidentally" slept in, I decided I didn't have enough time to make the walking tour that I had planned to do at 11am. I hadn't at all researched how to get into the city centre and didn't have a map so was a bit clueless as to where the meeting point was. Oh well. Didn't matter, Bethan had already provided me a very comprehensive list (maybe more accurately described as a short essay...legend!) of all of the noteworthy sites. The great thing about the Brussels city centre is that it is small and very easy to see the main sites by foot. I'm not sure if I can credit my barely there French or the fact that Dutch can sometimes be kind of close to German (yay High School German!), but I somehow managed to get myself to the town centre using the public transport.

I spent that day going through and ticking all of the "Brussels Boxes" according to Bethan. At about 3pm, I finally came across a paper map. I am not sure why, but I have been having a very hard time trying to get my hands on a map on this trip (especially when I do not stay at a hostel). Thank goodness for googlemaps and the fact that wifi (or weefee as the Europeans say, it's hilarious!) is widely available throughout the city. I visited all three pissing statutes, saw all kinds of various famous monuments in the city centre, and also visited what has to be the fanciest chocolate shop in the world! It honestly looks like a jewellers. Well done Pierre Marcolini! Sadly, he did not sell single chocolates and I don't have the budget for the elegant boxes so I did the next best thing and looked like a completely tool taking pictures of the shop to savour the moment.

My stint in Brussels was intermittently interrupted by a rain shower, and like any good Aussie, I took full advantage of the unforseen circumstances and headed into a pub. I ordered a nice big beer and settled in for what I thought might be an afternoon session. About 2 minutes later, the sun came out. Oh well, there goes that idea! Back to the pavement. I finished the afternoon by walking through Parc de Bruxelles and visiting the Palais Royal Koninklijk. I then made the long trek back to the apartment via Louizalaan (a very ritzy street in Brussels!). It was a quiet evening and I began planning for the next days adventures, a day trip to Brugge and Gent (which came by recommendation from my Belgian friends Anne & Leen that I met in Essaouira).

The following day was an early start. I had done as much research as I could on how to get to Brugge (Gent was on the way), so from Flagey I took the tram to Gare du Midi to take the train to Brugge. It was a very easy hour long journey to Brugge. Brugge is an absolutely stunning town that is north west of Brussels. I made my way into the town by foot and promptly went to find a map. It proved harder than expected (as usual!) and I finally found one in a beer tasting museum. Clearly all roads point to beer! As I also wanted to cover Gent in the same day, which I was told was quite ambitious, I picked the top ten sites in Brugge to see and stuck with that. Like Brussels, Brugge is very small and easy to see all of the main sites by foot. In a matter of hours, I had seen everything I needed to see. I spent a bit extra time nipping in and out of shops and then made my way back to the station.

Half an hour later, I arrived in Gent. The station in Gent is about a 20 minute walk from the city centre. I decided to walk, which I later decided was a bit foolish. I had already clocked a lot of miles in Brugge and it burned me out. My feet were killing me! For the first time in a month I was wearing shoes again (I just wore thongs in Morocco) and of course I was getting blisters! My attempt at finding the information stand in Gent was a complete failure also, so I spent the afternoon wandering around what I thought would be the "must-see" sights of Gent. I adored Gent. It is such a beautiful city and nowhere near as touristy as Brugge or Brussels. I had a few pints in one of the lovely old pubs and called it a day. At that stage it was about 6pm and I needed to get back to the city to meet my Belgian friends as they had planned to take me for dinner and some Belgian beer!

I met Anne and her friend Annelies at Place de la Bourse at 7.30pm. In true Mel form, I had somehow managed to stuff up my phone number by inverting the last two digits, however, only realising this at 7pm after I thought it was strange that I hadn't heard from Anne yet. Thank goodness she showed up and hadn't changed locations on me! Anne and Annelies took me out for a lovely traditional Belgian meal and of course some great beers. I had veal meatballs with a white beer sauce and frites. It was delicious! Following the dinner, we then headed back to Flagey for some more beers at an Irish bar there (I assure you I kept the Belgian train going!!!). There, we met Leen, and two more friends, Ine and Maren. Meeting up for drinks on a Thursday night with the girls was a weekly occurrence and I was thrilled to be included. It was so nice to meet Anne & Leen's friends, and was like any group of good girlfriends, full of gossip and funny stories. I had a great time with lots of laughs and it definitely made me miss the catch ups that I have with my girlfriends (hi girls!!!! xx). It seems no matter what country you are in, the dynamics of a group of girlfriends is always the same. They were all lovely and spoke impeccable English and it was extremely nice of them to speak solely in English for me that evening. We finished up around 1am, quite late for a school night, and I was knackered. I had been up early and on my feet all day.

The following day, and my final day, I spent the morning and early afternoon pottering around Flagey. There is a beautiful park and lake nearby and some great shops. I also went chocolate tasting at Leonida's, which is a famous chocolatier in Belgium. Being that the ladies in Leondia's were so kind in letting me sample so many, I bought a box and lucky Kelly got to reap the fruit of my labour! Chocolate tasting, it's a sh!t life, but someone's got to do it :)

That afternoon I was en route via bus to Amsterdam to see my very good friend Kelly and her partner Simon! So excited! Time to be reunited with more Bermuda friends...which can only mean one thing...lots of alcohol!

Hope you're well wherever it is in the world you are!

Mel xx

Brussels:

Cathedrale (Kathedraal). Belgium is both French & Dutch speaking so thought I should be politically correct (perhaps a better description is non biased?!) and include both! The architecture of the popular sites (and honestly most of Brussels) is stunning. I love the grand old buildings!
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Grand Place (Grote Markt). This square is usually bustling with people (and definitely a tourist trap with lots of overpriced restaurants lining the perimetre of the square). It is a fantastic location for some people watching though! One morning I sat here with a hot chocolate and watched the masses.
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And here he is...in all of his glory...Manneken Pis! Bit of a bizarre statue to have as the emblem of the city but certainly a must-see nonetheless! He represents the rebellious side of Brussels and certainly conveys their ability to not take themselves too seriously, which I like. Word has it that he owns over 900 suits and at various times of the year the city dresses him up! I'm not sure about anyone else, but I was very surprised at the size of him (and I am not being perverted here!), he's actually quite small (I would guess about 50cms high!).
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This was just for a laugh...you can find Manneken Pis all over the city in various shapes and sizes. Here he is again at a waffle shop in his World Cup 2014 get up!
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Even more absurd was his playmate, Jeanneke Pis, which is a relatively new statue (erected in '85 I believe). Oddly enough she is found tucked away down a street in a corner that is across from a pub that serves over 2,000 types of beer and behind a cast iron gate! She is nowhere near as popular (or visited as often) so in the name of gender equality, I had to pay a visit to boost up her attendance.
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And as for the dog...well, why not make it a trifecta?
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By far the poshest chocolate shop I have ever been to! I felt so out of place even going in there (almost like I should have been wearing a cocktail dress or something?!). Those chocolates were just beautiful, a real piece of art!
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Have you ever seen something more beautiful? I feel like a bit of oddball taking photos of chocolates, but I just couldn't help myself!
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Place Royale in all her glory.
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View of Brussels from an elevation near Place Royale. Such a beautiful city!
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Palais Royal (Koninklijk Paleis).
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Inside Parc de Bruxelles (Park van Brussel). A very pristine and tranquil park right in the heart of the city. Lots of people were sitting on park benches reading the paper and tonnes of Jerry (and Jane) Joggers as it was such a lovely day.
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Brugge:

I'm not sure the name of this church unfortunately, but it's so impressive (had to throw it in!)
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City Hall in Burg square.
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This is apparently the most photographed spot in Brugge!
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Market Square (La Grand Place/Marktplatz)
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Random street during my walks.
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I love the canals in Brugge (& Gent...reminds me of Amsterdam!)
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More canals.
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And again!
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Beautiful trees.
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Gent:

I much preferred Gent to Brugge (far less touristic and quite a young crowd!).
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This just made me laugh as I had never realised that Aussies were known for our ice cream?! Apparently so! I should have tried some now that I think of it...just to see if there was a difference! Likely just a marketing ploy...
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A main square in Gent (like I said earlier, I had no map, so not really sure of the names of places). I was just happy to just wander and look. So many beautiful buildings.
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More canals!
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Another square!
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Back to Brussels:

The park at Place Flagey (pronounced Flah-jaay). I of course learned this the hard way when I was trying to tell my friend Anne where I was staying in Brussels so that we could coordinate where we were going to go out. Of course I pronounced it phonetically which firstly resulted in a look of bewilderment and then caused her to erupt in laughter. Long story short, the story was repeated to the rest of the group and the girls all got a kick out of it and now refer to it as "Flagey". Seems I may have started something!
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The waffle van off of Place Louise (Louisaplein). To be honest I have never been a fan of waffles but because I was in Belgium, it was a must do! I went with a plain waffle and was completely blown away! DELICIOUS! And at 2 Euro, a complete bargain!
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Yummmmmmmmmmmm! Jealous???
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Posted by melpage 07:04 Archived in Belgium Tagged brugge brussels gent Comments (0)

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