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Fontainebleau, France - Aug 08

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This weekend's adventure took us to the Fontainebleau Chateau and forest about 45 minutes south of Paris.   Colin his wife, Felicity, invited us to stay at their home for the weekend.  They live in Chailly-en-Biere, a small village just outside of Fontainebleau. 

From Brussels it is about a 3 hour drive.  But as always, we took the very long route and got there in 8 hours.  But.....D surprised me and took me to a chateau for the most wonderful three hour lunch! 


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The food was delicious and the presentation beautiful. 


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My favorite part was the three-course dessert.  Once we had finished our meal, they brought us a little pineapple cream "pre-dessert", then the dessert we had ordered, and when we had coffee a whole array of additional desserts arrived, including a lollipop bouquet (note all the little desserts on the bottom).


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close up of the little desserts:


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and homemade marshmallows:


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Ah............I needed a nap after all that food!


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The sky was absolutely beautiful and of course I had to take many photos along the way.


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This was a pile of carrots, not sure what they were doing with them, but this boy was having a ball climbing on them.  The smell of carrots was so strong as we drove by.


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We like to stay off the main highways and take back roads, this does add time to our trip, but you never know what you might see.


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I love this photo as think it looks more like a painting than a photo.


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We arrived at Colin and Felicity's for dinner.  They have a lovely home with a swimming pool.  Colin made shish-kabobs on the grill and we had corn on the cob.  Both special treats for us as we do not get either in Brussels.  They are from England but have lived in France for over 18 years.  We really enjoyed having our breakfast and dinner in the open sun-room.


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On Saturday morning,  D and I headed to the Chateau and Colin and Felicity met up with us for lunch in town.


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The Royal Chateau of Fontainebleau is one of the largest French royal chateaux.  Img_1037 It was started in 1528, the work was carried out in several stages that lasted until the 18th century; hence the irregularity in plan and lack of unity in style.

Napoleon I lived there.  It was amazing to think we were walking the same steps as Napoleon.  He had one of the first tubs placed in the Chateau.  They said he was much cleaner than his contemporaries and took a bath most every day.  Img_1029

An interesting tid-bit I learned, that the word we use today for our small bathrooms, "powder room", came from the rooms they used to freshen up in.  Instead of taking baths back then, the people used to powder themselves down and there were rooms set up for them to do it.  The original powder rooms did not contain a toilet, sink, or bath.

It was hard to take photos inside as they did not allow flash - but this one came out and I wanted to share how elaborate the rooms were decorated.  The walls are lined with exquisite tapestry. 


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There were many gardens, all very beautiful and an unusual white peacock.  We had never seen one a white one before


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After lunch we went to the Forest of Fontainebleau.  A very popular place where many famous artists painted.Img_1096_6

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It is hard to describe the light and colors in this forest.  During the 1820s and ‘30s, artists of the romantic period like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Jules Coignet sought out Fontainebleau as their ´natural studio´ because of this unusual light.  They were followed by the Barbizon painters, who took the art of landscape in a new direction, setting the scene for young artists who would eventually become the Impressionists, like Monet.


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It was fun as Felicity had a book of many of the paintings done in the forest.  Below is a copy from her book:


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Compared to a photo I took:

 

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We left sunday mid morning for our drive home.  We stopped at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Laon.

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We have been in at least 75 cathedrals all over Europe, and you would think they all would begin to look the same.  But they don't.  Each one has something very unique and different.  This one was quite old, dating back to 1160, and was used as the inspiration for the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

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Enjoy the rest of your summer!


Horsham England - August 08

This weekend we took the Eurostar train to England to visit our Euro-friends - Dave and Allison. 

We had a great visit.  Img_8250_2Train rides are my favorite mode of transportation in Europe.  It is so easy.  You carry your suitcase on, find your seat and enjoy the ride.  Well, first you find your seat and hope it faces the front.  I cannot ride backwards and you cannot reserve seats going forward - so it is always pot-luck if your seats face forward.  There are usually enough empty seats so you can move.  I love to watch the Belgium/French/English countryside whisk by the big picture windows in the train.  Everything is so lush and green right now.  I easily get lost daydreaming when we ride the train.

It is amazing how quickly we got from Brussels to London - 2 hours.  Da_front_of_house_2We went through the Chunnel, a 31.4 mile undersea rail tunnel linking the United Kingdom and France, running beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. It is the second longest undersea tunnel in the world, after Japan's Seikan Tunnel.

Dave and Allison live in Horsham, a quintessentially quaint English village about an hour south of London.  Horsham is a Historic Market Town thought to have been settled in 947. The town had connections to the sale of horses and the name is believed to be derived from "Horse Ham", a settlement where horses were kept.  They have a lovely home.  Quite large by European standards. 

Allison picked us up at the train station and we headed out to their local pub for lunch.  D had the traditional "fish & chips" England is so well known for.  And of course a beer.  After lunch we headed out to Beachy Head, on the south coast.  It was an hour drive.

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The name Beachy Head has nothing to do with beach, it transpired from the original French word meaning Beautiful Headland.

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The cliffs were absolutely stunning.  It is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 530 ft above sea level. 

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The chalk was formed in the Cretaceous period when the area was under the sea, 65 million years ago and earlier. During the Cenozoic Era the chalk was uplifted, and was later eroded to form the dramatic cliffs. 

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The light house you see in the distance was built in 1828.  If you look closely, you can see a few people at the top of the cliff.  It gives you a better feel for the scale - how big of a drop it is.

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What was so amazing is that there was nothing to stop people from going over the edge.  As soon as we arrived, Allison told us to be careful and not go too close to the edge.  So we both ran as close to the edge as we could....To make Allison nervous, I danced on the edge:

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and then tried to get the perfect photo from the edge:

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D really got her when he climbed over the edge and hung from one hand:

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It was so funny to see Allison's face.

No people.......he was NOT really hanging on the edge of the cliff.  We call this one "trick" photography  :  )

The rain was moving in so we headed back to the house for a pre-dinner drink.  A new one for us, a very common British drink - Pimm's.  You mix one part Pimm's with three parts lemonade (which is what we refer to as 7 up or sprite), ice cubes, a wedge of cucumber, mint leaves and slices of lemon, orange and strawberry.  It was sooooo good we bought a bottle to bring home.

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After a delicious dinner at home, we headed to the local pub, the Malt Shovel.  On the weekends they have live bands.  This week was a guy who was singing pop songs.  He was actually very good.

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There were MANY interesting characters at the pub.  D&A were able to tell us stories about each of the "regulars".  Hmmmmm....with them being able to tell so many stores about the "regulars", doesn't that make them "regulars"?

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After several rounds, we were singing along.  Allison was even dancing along with the locals.

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A fun night indeed.....I might have had a little too much to drink as D had to carry me back to D&A's house. 

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The next day Dave drove us to Brighton Beach, a popular resort area with pebble beaches, lots of restaurants and fun shopping.

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It is a very artsy community.  We did a little shopping and had lunch.  Here are the boys in front of the little seafood shack where we ate sandwiches.

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We had some unusual new items - cockles and whelks and D tasted an interesting one with many legs:

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We were lucky and caught a sunny morning, but as always in England, the rain moved in.  D&A had purchased tickets to an outdoor event and we were going to have a picnic dinner, but it was raining too hard.  So we had an indoor picnic (they have a great sun room so it was almost like we were outside) and watched the Olympics.

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And I have to share the photo of D&A's cat - White Cat - he is a beauty.  Regal.  He seemed to really like me taking his photo.

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We did not have much time on Sunday as our train left from London at 2:30.  We did walk around Horsham and did a little shopping.  Unlike Belgium, several stores are open on Sunday.  For my shopping gals......they have what is equivalent to the dollar store but is called the everything pound store.  A bit more expensive than one dollar as a pound is equal to two dollars.  A fun store!

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and last but not least....D&A's adorable car - the mini-coop.  It was very strange with the driver on the right, but both did a great job driving all around town.  I was the one who kept going to the wrong side to get in!

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Want to see a few more photos?  Click on the Horsham Album on the left hand side of our main page.


Happy Birthday to me - PRAGUE - July 08

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D took me to Prague to celebrate My birthday.  How sweet is he?

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic.  Fun for me as my father's family was from Czechoslovakia, my father's older brothers were actually born there.  He was the first born in the United States.   

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On January 1, 1993 the country of Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  We were there in 1996, not long after the split and it has changed significantly in 12 years.  Well, not the buildings, as many date to the 9th century, but the availability of hotels, restaurants, and the culture.

The weather was picture perfect in this fairytale city.

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The Czech Republic is part of the EU (European Community) but they do not use euros as their currency, they use Czech crowns.  In Prague, they do accept euros or crowns, but the exchange rate is very high for euros.

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It is the land of beer, incredible architecture, and beautiful women.  It rivals Belgium for beers.  Prior to us moving here, D favored Czech beers, his heart now belongs to Belgium.  But he still favors Czech women  : )

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Eating in Prague - most meals consist of pork or beef and sauerkraut and dumplings.  Dumplings (knedliky) is a traditional Czech side dish made from potato flour, boiled in water in the shape of a roll and then sliced and served hot.  Goulash is also a popular dish.  As Czechs say before a meal - Dobrou chut! Which means I wish you to enjoy your meal.

Donald has a tradition on MY birthday, he always buys a pair of shoes.  No, not for me - for HIM!  He claims we are always shopping on my b-day and I can never make a decision, but he can.  RIGHT.   

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I did get a fun b-day present while I was there.  One of the crafts that they are know for in the Czech Republic is crystal and handmade glass beads.  I got several scoops of beautiful beads.

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Another craft they are known for are their handmade/hand carved puppets.  It is fascinating to look at the level of detail in each one.

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The architecture is quite remarkable in Prague. 

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It was one of the few cities in Europe that was not destroyed by WWII so most of it's architectural structures are true to form.  It contains some of the most varied architectural styles of any city in Europe.  From Art Nouveau:

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to Baroque, Renaissance, Cubist, Gothic, Neo-classic,

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even Ultra Modern (called the Fred and Ginger building):

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In earlier years, they did not have addresses on the buildings, but had the type of business that it was. For example, this one was probably agriculture of some sort - wheat?

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The main square has a beautiful astronomical clock that dates back to the 15th century (1410) (click here for more info).

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Our friends Dave and Allison from London (who we will be visiting this weekend) were in Prague the same days we were - what a coincidence!  We spent the day together at Prague castle.  They also celebrated my birthday dinner with us.

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Prague Castle is one of the biggest castles in the world (according to the Guinness book of world records).  The first known building on this site was constructed in 870 by Prince Borivoj.  In the 12th century it was replaced by a Romanesque Palace and in 1541, following a fire, Prague Castle underwent further changes.  In the latter half of the 16th century Empress Maria Theresa had the castle buildings rebuilt in Baroque style, their current appearance.

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After a long day of history, we decided to check out the BEER! 

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If you look closely, D is taking my photo at the same time I took this photo of the two D's and Allison   - see them in the reflection behind me.  Hmmm, I think this was after a round of the BIG beers.  We were at the Franz Kafka bar. 

Allison and Dave travel like we do and they have a great Blog - you can visit them at polterratic.  Her photos of the queen of England are the best! 

It was surprising to see how crowded Prague was.  We have never been to Europe in the heart of the summer. 

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The Charles Bridge (above and below) is a common known landmark of Prague.  Designed by Peter Parler, it was completed in 1400. 

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It is now a pedestrian-only bridge, but traffic ran on it for over 600 years!

One of the statues on the Charles bridge:

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Prague is especially pretty at night. 

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The final photo - little nesting dolls that I am completely obsessed with.  It drives D crazy because I have to examine each one at EVERY store ....and they are Russian, not Czech.  These are magnets, not the real dolls.  But I loved the color in this photo.

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