Thursday, June 28, 2012

Honfleur (in Normandy, France)

This post outlines some of our adventures on our Spring Trip in April/May 2012.

Honfleur is a gorgeous seaside town in Normandy which is about one thousand years old. Isn't that incredible?


Once a very important port, the old harbour is now mainly a tourist attraction.


The town is known for its fascinating buildings of different colours and façades, most with slate tile roofs.


Walking through the narrow streets of the old town there are plenty of pops of colour:


This is St Catherine's Church - over 500 years old and made entirely of wood.


After the original stone church was destroyed in the 100 Years' War the locals wanted to rebuild it but really needed to be spending their money on town defences.

The clock tower was built separate from the church hall (in case of lightening strikes).

So they built the church from wood with plans to upgrade it one day and well, you know how it goes, they never quite got around to it.


Lucky really, because now St Catherine's is famous for being the largest wooden church in France.


We ate lunch at Le Cidrerie, a crêperie recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide. It was a cozy restaurant with friendly staff who welcomed the kids with paper and pencils - plus they served great crêpes.

Normandy is famous for its apples and they make super-scrummy apple cider which we made our business to drink whenever we could.


If you like the cider then you'll no doubt like the apple brandy (Calvados) as well. This dish came to the table with the Calvados-soaked apple in flames, which you then doused with the butter and Calvados syrup.

Oh yes, yes, yes.

After lunch we managed a bit more of a walk-around before a big storm blew in.


This was taken just before the heavens opened and we ran all the way back to the car.


Honfleur would be heaven on a sunny day, sitting by the harbour with a crisp, cool cider in hand. And no children. 


Hope you're all having a great week. It's 34ºC (94ºF) here in our corner of Provence today, summer is finally here!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Amiens and ANZAC Day in Villers-Bretonneux

This post outlines some of our adventures on our Spring Trip in April/May 2012.

I'm a little embarrassed I don't have more of Amiens to show you - our visit wasn't very extensive due to rain and the fact we wanted to have an early night before the ANZAC Day Dawn Service.

Rainy days are a great for visiting churches, and the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the highlights of Amiens (it's the largest Gothic church in France).


Construction began in 1220 to create a cathedral to house a relic of St John the Baptist.

Even if you only get the chance to check out the exterior you won't be disappointed. It's got plenty of flying buttresses and gothic little gargoyles:


Not to mention the incredible number of saint sculptures everywhere you look.


The detail is amazing.


Here we have the Headless Saints' Club. I'm not sure who these fellows are. St John is probably a safe bet; the other could be any of a long list of decapitated holy men.


Notre Dame of Amiens is the tallest Gothic church - hard to miss once you get inside.


Much of the interior is dedicated to St John the Baptist (and his noggin).


There were lots of these intricate carvings around the cathedral displaying scenes from the life of Christ and St John. Some were fairly gruesome, including this one of the decapitation:


Speaking of gruesome - that relic I mentioned before? St John's skull. Here it is:


I should point out that there are at least 5 different sites all claiming to have poor St John's head (or a part of it, bleugh), so who knows if this is really the one?

The stained glass was lovely (relatively recent as the originals didn't survive WWII).

Film strip depiction of the life of Christ

I think this must be the saddest little cherub I have ever seen:


And in the south transept there are flags and plaques commemorating the British, Canadian, NZ, US and Australian deaths in WWI.


By late afternoon we only had time for one temper tantrum before getting an early night:

I say no! (exact quote)

The next morning we attended the ANZAC Day Dawn Service in the nearby village of Villers-Bretonneux.

Over 1200 Australians died in Villers-Bretonneux in the process of recapturing the town from German forces in 1918, hence the importance of the town to Australians (and vice versa).


We had everyone up at 3.30am wearing nearly every piece of clothing we'd brought. It was cold.


Visitors park in the village and then take shuttle buses to the Australian National Memorial which is about 2 kms away.


As you sit shivering in the dark at the start of the service it's not hard to imagine how utterly and hopelessly miserable serving in the Somme would've been.


After the service the shuttle buses were swamped so lots of folks (including us) walked back to their cars. It's a flat stretch of road with temporary pedestrian barriers, so not difficult.

Looking back on the Memorial during our walk to the car

It was at this stage that the children lost their happy thoughts - the early start and the cold had gotten to them - and they sobbed most of the way back (except the baby, snug in his pram, who thought we were all most amusing).

Canola and rolling hills where there was once carnage

Nothing that a hot chocolate couldn't fix.


A very moving and memorable day for all of us.

The mairie (town hall) and australiana  

The next post will be crafty, I promise! A bientôt.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Versailles: the glorious gardens

This post outlines some of our adventures on our Spring Trip in April/May 2012.

The gardens of Versailles are a worthy of a day's explorations on their own.


There are huge expanses of lawn and water, and intimate hedge-divided garden rooms, all dotted with fountains, fountains and more fountains.


They also had lovely classical music playing throughout the gardens, which really helps you imagine how incredible a day in Versailles during a 1700's summer would have been.


The weather was crazy the day we visited, full sun one minute then rain the next. If the rain didn't get you, the wind would blow the fountain right in your face (and camera). Exciting.


If you can manage it, make sure you time your visit to correspond with Les Grandes Eaux.

Timings are on the website - but in a nutshell these are the two periods a day (during tourist season) when all the fountains are turned on and you can marvel at them. Outside of these times all the fountains are off (pumps are expensive, y'all).

Although I will mention that the fountains in the The King's Garden ran the whole day. Not sure if that's a regular occurrence?


This is the Fountain of Latona. Latona, the god Apollo's mother, was taunted by Lycian peasants. Apollo asked Jupiter for help and he turned the Lycians into frogs. That'll learn 'em.


The Orangery with the Pond of the Swiss in the distance:

The famous boxed citruses.

My favourite garden room was the Bosquet des Rocailles (known as the Ballroom):


How awesome would an evening party be here?


I wonder which of the royal revellers was the muse for this impression:


Crazy hair, boobs akimbo with a pair of stolen athletic supporter cups. I know that's how I'd like to be remembered.

Bacchus: worst baby-sitter ever.

Apollo Served by Nymphs. Indeed.

More cute little cheeks - this time fauns.

The Dragon Fountain

Interspecies breeding gone wrong on the Pyramid Fountain

Neptune's Fountain. Wow, Neptune worked out.

The famous Apollo sculpture.

The Fountain of Enceladus.

Enceladus, the leader of the giants, tried to attack Mount Olympus by piling mountains on top of each other. Jupiter said oh no, you don't and smacked the whole thing down. The fountain shows Enceladus  as he yelled a final curse before disappearing under the rocks. (A big ole jet of water comes out of his mouth when the fountain's on.)


The very formal Colonnade

We loved exploring the grounds and I would recommend them to anyone with kids. The gardens are opened earlier than the palace and close later as well, which is handy to know.


Have a great weekend everyone! See you next week.


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