Alsace France and the Wine Tasting Dinner


We love the Alsace region in France.  It is only a 4 hour drive and we have a charming B&B where we love to stay, Ambiance Jardin, owned by Pierrette and Jean Luc.  Check out their web-page, the photography and the layout are both stunning.    After staying three times, we feel like we are staying with friends instead of at a B&B. 


a few photos around the B&B...


Pierrette collects antique watering cans.  She has hundreds of them.


Every corner has a sweet vignette......a photo waiting to be snapped.


For more photos from the B&B, see the album titled Ambiance Jardin, on the right hand side of the first page of the Blog.

We picked this weekend to go as they were having a wine tasting and dinner.  It was going to be in french - but who cares as long as you are drinking wine!


This is Pierrette and her friend who is the wine expert.  He only spoke French.  It was a diverse table, there were three from Germany (only one spoke English), me and D (D doing well with his French), Pierrette's son and his wife (both spoke a little English) and three friends (all French but did speak some English).  


 We started the dinner with sparkling wine.  An interesting tidbit, what we call Champagne in the US, is called sparkling wine in Europe.  Real Champagne only comes from the town of Champagne.  The U.S. doesn't follow this rule, but it is strictly enforced in Europe.


D listening intently to the descriptions of the wines.  It was a unique tasting as we sampled three wines without food, we were served a course, and tasted them again with the food.  We did this for each course.


After sampling 15 different glasses of wine, I am pretty sure we were both speaking French and German!! 

Jean-Jon was our translator.  After he had several glasses of wine, we think he forgot how to speak English!  No, he did a very good job.  It was also great practice for D to use his french in a real setting (vs class).


A very enjoyable dinner with lots of laughter!

We spent the next day in Colmar, founded in the 9th century.  It has many half-timbered houses.  It is on the French/German border, but I think the houses look more German than French.


  It is a charming town with colorful houses. 




It also has some very old houses.     


Check out the date above the door in the photo below, 1612.


 We found an adorable tea shop where we had lunch. 


The two women running the cafe had to be 75 and 85.  They were scurrying all over that restaurant.  Note the bag.....we did a little shopping too. 

Looks like he is also enjoying the beautiful day.


Another memorable trip!

Happy Holidays!

Warm thoughts and special wishes

for a bright and happy holiday.....




To celebrate the holiday season, this December we visited Dusseldorf Germany, Paris France, London England, Aachen Germany and our local Brussels Market.   We selected photos for this blog that would show you how they decorate for the holiday in these countries.




The Eiffel Tower is stunning this year - decked in Blue.  Why is it blue?  The EU (European Union) rotates the presidency every 6 months.  France has it from June through December and honored it by lighting up the Eiffel Tower in blue with yellow stars, recalling the EU flag.



The Eiffel tower is 984 feet tall.  Eighty giant projectors on the ground and 100 more on the tower are used to achieve the blue effect.    At dark, the lights twinkle for a few minutes every hour on the hour.

















The department stores are all magical in Paris at Christmas.  From the lights on the outside:


the large tree in the entrance:


And my very favorite, the store windows.  Absolutely Fabulous!  The characters are animated and most of them move.  The girls with the umbrellas floated and danced all over the window:



This one was just adorable:


These two popped up and down from behind the chair:


In Brussels and Germany they have the outdoor markets in the city centers.  It makes for a beautiful scene with the cathedrals in the background.


They are set up like little villages with wooden chalets that sell food, drinks, baked goods, and gifts. 










The smell of the sweet treats put you in the holiday spirit.





They have lots of delicious food {the reason I can get D to take me to the markets}.  Check out that tongue action while squeezing the mustard.  Serious stuff!










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We also love the Glühwein {in Germany}, in Belgium and France it is called Vin Chaud.  It is usually prepared from red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar.   













The Glühwein is nice when it is so cold outside and you are walking for hours!  Each vendor serves it in a different mug.  If you want, you can keep the mug.  If not, you turn it back in and get 2 euros back.  Enough to buy another drink at the next booth! 


We were in London for three days.  D got a new coat (shown in this photo) - how Euro is he?













Not that any of these photo are Christmas-y, but they are so quintessentially British!  We did learn that instead of wishing a Merry Christmas, in Britian they say Happy Christmas.


Oh yeah, D did find a Christmas beer in London.  He said it was good despite the name {Chistmas pudding beer}.


We hopped on the tube on Saturday morning and headed out to Horsham to visit our friends Dave an Allison.   We experienced a very British Christmas event-


Pantomime  (click for more info).  A Pantomime, called Panto by the locals, is a musical comedy performed at Christmas but having nothing to do with Christmas.  They are always based on children's stories.  We saw Peter Pan.  It is a family event and everyone in the audience participates during the entire show.  Yelling out (booing the villain), standing up, singing, it was quite the experience, a lot of fun.    Unfortunately, photos were not allowed. 

Last but not least, the great city we live in.....Brussels. 


We have a very nice Christmas market with over 250 booths with local hand made items. 


It has two carousels, an ice skating rink, a light show on the Grande Place, and a very large ferris wheel. 


And we could not forgot our favorite Brussels Symbol...all decked out for the holidays!


For those of you who think the blogs are too long.  Thanks for reading this far and we'll see you next year. 


For those of you who want just a little more....Here is some info on the history of St Nicolas and how they celebrate the holidays in Belgium.





Sinterklaas or St Nicolas comes on 6 December


Sinterklaas {photo borrowed} is the basis for the North American figure of Santa Claus.  Sinterklaas has a long white beard, wears a red bishop's dress and red mitre (bishop's hat), and holds a crosier, a long gold colored staff with a fancy curled top.  Sinterklaas carries a big book with all the children's names in it, which states whether they have been naughty or nice in the past year.


Sinterklaas or St Nicolas arrives from Spain on a white horse.  He has a black assistant called Zwarte Piet who comes down your chimney.  On the 5th of December, before going to bed, children put their shoes next to the chimney of the coal fired stove or fireplace, with a carrot or some hay in it "for Sinterklaas's horse", and sing a Sinterklaas song.  The next day, they will find candy, speculoos, a delicious spicy biscuit that is often served with coffee {and we can verify that they really are delecious!} or a small present in their shoes the next day, supposedly thrown down the chimney by a Zwarte Piet or Sinterklaas himself {guessing this is where our stocking comes from}.

This is also when most Belgian children receive one big present from Sinterklaas (i.e. their parents!).  
For more details click here: Sinterklass


In Belgium, the focus is around Christmas Eve. There is a huge family get-together for a traditional evening meal of three or four courses with plenty of wine and champagne.  Rich, expensive foods are often served, such as lobster, caviar and a variety of game {we are going to have goose}.

Belgium remains a strongly catholic country, with many families attending a candlelit midnight mass on Christmas Eve. This is more than just a religious event – it is also a cultural one with midnight services well-known for their magnificent music.

Christmas morning is not traditionally a time for giving presents in Belgium; the day is usually spent quietly with family. The commercial Father Christmas was not known here until a few years ago.  However, intense marketing by shops eager to sell presents three times over in December has meant that many families also give presents from Santa Klaus now.  Although the Father Christmas and Sinterklaas figures are clearly derived from the same tradition, the two figures remain quite separate in Belgium.   Sinterklaas is always dressed in a long bishop’s robe with a mitre on his head, whereas Father Christmas or De Kerstman is the comical, round, ruddy-cheeked fellow we see in books and movies.

We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Basque Region of France & Spain Sept/Oct 08

We'll start with this photo, D's favorite - it captures the flavor of our entire trip......great food, great wine....lots of fun! 


We were gone for 11 days.  Except for the last two, we had blue skies with perfect weather in the low to mid 70's.  We did so many things and took so many photos (1465 photos), that it is hard to pick just a few things to share.  It is a long one, so grab a glass of wine.....and enjoy.

We hopped on the train in Brussels for a 5 hour ride to Bordeaux, France.  Here we rented a car and headed south driving along the coast, stopping in France for two nights and then on to Spain.  Our first stop was St-Jean-de-luz, a lovely seaside resort and active fishing port.

Img_8462 Horse_2

The Basque Country spans the border between France and Spain.  They speak French, Spanish, English and a language know as the Basque language.  Most street/store signs are bilingual with French-Basque or Spanish-Basque.  They have their own traditions and food that are quite different from other parts of Spain and France.

In this area, you will find wild horses.  We saw this one in a wooded area.  This photo is a bit dark, but I really loved it.  It has a magical feel with the fern lying on his head.

We never saw any large herds (said to be able to see more in the summer), but did see a few walking along the roadside.



Here we are in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques area of southwest France.  It borders the Cantabrian Sea.


It was a picture/postcard perfect day.


As we mentioned in an earlier blog, we have been to many churches and cathedrals, yet every time we go into one, there is something new and unique.  The churches here have two and three tiers of balconies (called galleries).  In early times, the men sat in the galleries and the women and children in the nave.  A wooden ship hangs from the ceiling to determine the weather.  If you click on this photo and enlarge, it is easier to see.   In France - the churches are open at all times for people to visit.  In Spain, they are only open during mass.


The first night we stayed in Chateau d' Urtubie, a beautiful castle that has been in the same family since 1341, when it was built.  In 1497, the crazy wife, Marie d'Urtubie in order to keep the castle from her ex husband burned it.  In 1505 it was rebuilt (not all of it was destroyed) so many parts date back to 1341.  How amazing it was to stay in a building this old.


Count Paul Philippe de Coral is the current owner.  The downstairs is a museum where anyone can visit the rooms with original furnishings and very old tapestries.  The count gave us a personal tour when we arrived.


The next day we went to the village of Espelette in France, famous for its red peppers.  It was a lovely village with all white houses with red shutters.  Strings of the Espelette peppers were hung everywhere to dry.


The peppers are harvested over the course of 10 weeks starting mid-august.


They are hand-picked and hand-sorted before being strung into the famous "cordes".


Some of the other local products.


Our journey continued along the coast of France into Spain.  The cliffs were magnificent with heart stopping vistas at every turn.  It was early evening when we walked along this cliff.  The sun just started to set, creating spectacular color.


This is along the Bay of Biscay.


A quiet moment of reflection.  It was so peaceful and not another person in sight. 


Parts of the continental shelf extend far into the bay resulting in fairly shallow water in many areas and create the rough seas the region is known for.


This is how D sneaks mountain climbing in...he lures me with pretty photos. 


The next day was spent in Bilbao where the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Gehry's signature piece, is located.  It has been touted as one of the world's most spectacular buildings and it really was.  It is made of glass, titanium, and limestone.


It is very popular with wedding couples.  We were there on a Saturday and saw seven couples.  If you look closely at the spider photos, you can see two couples.



For those of you who have never driven in Europe, most of the roads in the small towns are very narrow and look like one-way, but are intended to be used as two-way streets.  The more narrower the road, the more D will pick it to go down.  Good thing our rental car was small.  Here are a few shots I took while we were actually driving down the narrow streets: Img_2288


We usually pick one restaurant as a "splurge" restaurant.  This trip we selected Etxebarri the chef is known world-wide for his grilling.  In fact, many have called him the world's best griller.  It has been written up in many magazines, we thought this one in men's vogue captured it well (  The chef makes his own charcoal every morning and created his own grills.  The restaurant is on the 2nd floor and has only 9 tables.  The bottom floor is a very casual bar.  You really need to know about this place in advance as you would never just "stumble" upon it.


The food is very simple, no sauces, just the perfection of the grill.  We had oysters in seaweed, a delicate fish as a 2nd course and a buttery tender sliced chuleta (bone-in rib eye).  The cows are said to be 8 years old (typical American cow is 2 years old).  For dessert, D had sheep's milk ice cream in a pasty with pineapple sorbet shavings.  I had a souffle with a molten chocolate center.  Some of the best food we have ever eaten, definately the best on this trip.

It was in a very tiny town with only six cobblestoned buildings.  A picture perfect setting. 


The drive up to it was also very picturesque.


Next stop, Hotel Ansotegi, which was once an iron foundry dating back to the 15th century.  The owners did a remarkable job restoring it and creating a 15 room B&B.  We had dinner here both nights.  Good home-style food. 


It was interesting to see how they stored their hay in this area.  We are use to seeing bails, but here they stack them in a cone shape.


This part of the country was much more mountainous then we expected.  We stopped at a monastery and across the street there was a sheep dog herding sheep - I jumped out with my camera.  But no luck, they were too far away.  We walked up to the monastery and on the way back I crossed the street for another photo.  I met D at the car and he said, "good thing I locked the door".....I asked why?  He said - "you left your door wide open when you jumped out for the photo"!  Good thing there were honest people around...we had all of our luggage, etc in the car!  A photographer has to do what they have to do for a great photo  :  )


Me with our little rental car!


The good news is bathrooms are easy to come by in the villages and usually quite clean.  The bad news is, they never have any toilet paper and often times the men's room are in plain site.  We both have funny stories on this subject.  Being the prepared traveler that I am, I always carry Kleenex.  But we had used them for napkins the day before and I forgot to replenish the supply in my purse.  Having to go really bad.......I was searching for a creative alternative and I found it.  My mom had recently redone her kitchen and I had a fabric swatch of her new fabric.  It was an EMERGENCY!

And now for D....well, it might be more fun to just show it in this photo. 


We saw sunflowers fields that went on for miles and miles.  They were past peak, but still had a certain sense of beauty.


We were told that most of these crops will be harvested for the oil.


And for those who always question if D really works?  Here he is on vacation....and working!


Our next hotel was in the capital of the Basque country -  La Casa de los Arguillos, a former tailor's shop recently renovated into an 8 room boutique hotel.  They kept the integrity of the building showing the exposed stone walls and wood floor. It was in the best location, right on the main square.  Our room was the top, upper left.


There was a large medieval fair going on the day we arrived.  Thousands of people. Usually we would not have been interested in a medieval fair but how could you resist when it was taking place in a city that was founded in 1181 and is 827 years old?  It was so much fun.  Almost as soon as we stepped out into the fair, three stilt walkers were starting a show. 

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Guess who they picked to "play" in their little show?   D!!

They walked up to D and asked him a question in Spanish - he replied (in Spanish), that he did not speak Spanish....everyone bust out laughing and the man whisper to D - really? 

D became the star!  The best we could figure out with our extremely limited knowledge of the language, the man with the blue hat was accusing his girlfriend of cheating.....and the man in green was the judge.  When he pointed to D - he was accusing D of doing the when D said he did not speak made him really look guilty. 


So the play went on and they decided to get married.  At that point, they pulled D back into the play to be her "papa".  The man asked D for the women's hand in marriage.  D agreed to give her up and they proceeded to have the ceremony.  Now keep in mind, NOT A WORD of English was spoken during the entire show. 

The crowd was laughing so was I.  I could barely take the photos. 


Pouring cider at the festival. 


This photo was taken at night from our bedroom window - the medieval festival still going strong.


The next stop took us into the Rioja Region in Spain, famous for their wines.  The green rolling hills were so plush and beautiful. 


Img_8591Rioja wines are usually a blend of various grape varietals and can be either red (tinto), white (blanco) or rose (rosado).  The harvest time for most Rioja vineyards is September - October so the grapes were at peak and full on the vines. 

Stunningly beautiful.  I have always had a passion for taking close up photos of grapes.  D said that 1000 of the 1465 photos were of grapes. 

For more grape photos, check out the album on the right- hand side of the blog, titled "grapes".


The blue on the grapes is fertilizer. 



I think this one is cool because the shape of the leaf in the bottom left (near the tip of the bottom grape) looks like the outline of a wine bottle.


We visited the Dinastia Wine Museum, said to be the largest wine museum in the world.  It was built in 2006 by King Juan Carlos. It was very impressive.  We learned a lot in this museum which walked through the entire wine making process and history.  They also house a collection of 3000 corkscrews. 


D very happy with his wine purchase at the museum.

In their gardens, they have 200 different grapes vines one right next to the other and each one is labeled as to the type of grape.  No one was there, so we tasted about 15 different grapes off the vines.  It was fascinating to taste how different they were.  Not only between the green/yellow ones, but also between the different purple varietals.


These capture the fall colors so beautifully.


This is another structure built by  Frank Gehry.  It is the headquarter of the oldest wine producer in the area, Marques de Riscal.  It also houses a 5 star hotel.  It is a striking contrast next to the ancient cathedral and buildings. 


In Spain, they do not eat dinner until 9:00.  But at around 7:00, the tapas bars start to open up.  In Spain, they have drinks and tapas before dinner, we just ate tapas for dinner.  Img_1907 Img_8380_2


At the tapas bars, they lay all the food out on the bar table.  You then go and pick what you want, order your drink and in most places, you stand and eat.  The tapas can be as simple as a ham sandwich or gourmet, like the ones we had above.  The top one is duck and left are grilled sardines.


Ohhhh and did I mention a popular dish in Spain is horse?  Here is a photo of the horse butcher.  And no, we did not taste any horse.  Or at least, not that we were aware of!


Our forth stay, Villa de Abalos, a rural hotel called a hospederia.  It was a converted 17th century mansion.  It was really a special place.  They served Rioja specialties in their restaurant which we ate in twice.  It is so nice when the B&B's serve meals.  This way you do not have to worry about driving home.  They also made their own wine which we drank and purchased. 


One the way back to France we drove through the Pyrenees but unfortunately it was very foggy and we did not get to see many views.  The landscape did change significantly as we entered France, back to the idyllic country house settings.......


peaceful cows......


and little castles every where.


Img_2310_2Our last two nights ww were back in France at the lovely Le Logis de Saint Vincent, a former mansion.  A couple (Sophie and Marcel) about our age purchased it four years ago.  It had been empty for 40 years.  The glass in all the windows was gone and many of the floors were caving in.  In just two years they restored it and opened the B&B.  Marcel was a trained chef and we enjoyed wonderful dinners both evenings we were there.

There are a "few" more photos in an album on the left hand side of the Blog's main page.

Another successful adventure in Europe!  Where to next?

Fontainebleau, France - Aug 08


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! 



The food was delicious and the presentation beautiful. 



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).



close up of the little desserts:



and homemade marshmallows:



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


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



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.



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.



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



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.





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





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. 



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




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


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.




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




Compared to a photo I took:




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



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.



Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Porsche-Pette takes a road trip to SW France - June


D was invited to speak at the Aviation University in Toulouse France, about nine hours southwest of Brussels.  How should we get there?  Plane, train, or automobile?  We decided car.   

 This area of France is known for great wines, gourmet food {truffles, duck, goose and D's favorite foie gras}, castles, and stunning countryside with century-old stone farm homes.  For those keeping track, gas was $10 per gallon.

While in Toulouse we stayed at a beautiful B&B, La Pradasse (  It was an old farm house.  The B&B part was the former open barn.  The couple refinished it themselves - the husband is an artist.



They had the most beautiful iron work throughout the interior and exterior of house.  All the windows and doors you see were done by him.  She told me she wanted a husband like mine, who could take her to all the fun places we travel.  I told her I wanted a husband like hers - a french artist! 

NO!  I would not trade my Poopie for anyone!




Cheers - a celebration after Donald's hard day at work.  The presentation was a success.....they invited him back next year.

Img_7219 Notable experience in Toulouse:  I had a scoop of violet ice cream and a scoop of fig ice cream.  Two very unusual flavors.  D had apple crumble and speculoos.  All were Delicious!







Unfortunately we did not have the delightful weather that we had when D&D visited us earlier in the month.  But we still managed to squeeze in a few days with the top down.  Here is one for you did D take THIS photo???!



The poppies are in bloom throughout France.  I was not able to capture a good field shot, but here is a close up.  They are considered a weed, but I think they are absolutely beautiful.



Our second stop was the Dordogne or Perigord Region - home to the prehistoric man.  Rocamadour, shown here, is a magical town with golden houses clinging to the side of a cliff over the Alzou canyon. 



We did not stay inside the town, but selected a "restaurant with rooms" nearby. Img_7431

This region is very well known for its gourmet restaurants, many offer rooms for rent.  The room is usually quite sparse, but the concept is - you are there for the food.  Dinner was delicious with a beautiful presentation.  Donald ate the best lamb he has ever had. This photo was taken out front of our hotel in the early morning fog. 

I think the highlight of the trip for me (after the fig ice cream) was our visit to the Padirac Chasm or the Gouffre de Padirac Caves.  Wow.  Img_7426 WOW!  We were only allowed to take photos at the entrance and I cold not find a website that showed the inside.  The silver structure on the right are the stairs and this is only the half-way point!  You descend 350 feet and then take a boat ride through the caves to get to the main part where the vaulted ceiling rises up 300 feet high.  The boat ride on the underground river through the cavern was something we will never forget.

Another famous cavern in the Dordogne region is the Lascaux Cave where the world's oldest prehistoric cave drawings were found, dating back 16,000 years.  Unfortunately it is now closed to the public.

Our last stop was Rouen where we stayed in a very elegant B&B home built in 1850, Le Clos Jouvenet

(  Img_7439_2

It had the most spectacular bathroom view (and yes we mean toilet view) we have ever had.  I also really enjoyed her breakfast which was served on the back porch.....fresh orange juice, croissants, yogurt, fruit - all beautifully displayed.


Rouen is famous for many things.  But two we found of interest were:  Joan of Arc's trial (and burning) and Monet's famous paintings of the cathedral.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen on May 30, 1431.  She was a 15th century virgin saint and national heroine of France. At the young age of 16, Joan led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War.  She was captured by the English and tried by a court; the court convicted her of heresy and she was burned at the stake by the English when she was nineteen years old. Twenty-four years later, the Holy See reviewed the decision of the ecclesiastical court, found her innocent, and declared her a martyr.


The Rouen Cathedral:  Between 1892 and 1894, the French Impressionist Claude Monet produced 30 oil paintings of the main facade. Fascinated by the play of light and atmosphere he painted the cathedral at different times of day, from slightly different angles, and in varied weather conditions. Each painting offers a glimpse into a narrow slice of time and mood.  These are very famous paintings.  I am sure you will recognize them as shown on this site:

Building_2_2 Another interesting building in Rouen was the Palace of Justice which had visible destruction from WWII.  During the war, the Nazis used the building as a prison for captured French resistance fighters.   When the Americans were liberating Rouen, the palace was one of the last holdouts for the Nazis.   The bullet marks cover the entire building and make for a very moving scene.

From Rouen back home was only a three hour drive.  We will definitely go back soon.

And we leave you with a few artsy - colorful shots of our journey through Southwest France.  Enjoy!












The Parental Units Visit

Don & Donna’s fabulous visit:


We drove, ate, drank, toured; drove, ate drank toured; drove ate drank toured!  They were here for three weeks and we took them on three separate trips.  We saw so many wonderful sites, ate at so many great restaurants and had so many good laughs that I am not sure how I am going select what to tell you about.  Here are the highlights -


Trip one:  Alsace France - a six hour drive northeast.  It borders France and Germany.  Trip two:  Normandy France another six hour drive, and the final trip, an overnight train ride to Paris. Wonderful!  We also did several things in Brussels:  palaces, gardens, markets, churches, & bars.  Other than one afternoon, we had picture-perfect weather the entire time they were here, which is quite unusual to go this long without rain.

Img_6388_2 Brussels:  We gave them three days to adjust to Belgium time.  During this period we took it easy.  We visited our local Wednesday market, showed them where D works, our favorite pub, and all around our neighborhood.  They took a bus tour to get an overview of the city and to see all the major sites.  We also visited the royal gardens that are only open for three weeks in the spring.

This photo was taken in front of the Royal Palace which is just around the corner from our apartment.


We introduced them to several Belgium specialties including the yummy Belgium waffles!

Alsace:  Since all four of us could not fit in Porsche-pette, we rented a car for both trips.  Okay...for those of you having a hard time paying $4.00 a gallon for gas...try $9.50 a gallon! 

We started the first trip with a visit to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg ( where General George Patton is buried (seen in photo below).


His grave faces the graves of the 5076 buried there as if he were addressing his troops. 


During the drive, we passed through four countries in less than one hour:  Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and France.  We wanted to make sure they were getting their money’s worth out of this trip.  We settled in a small town in the Alsace region at Le Ambiance Jardin (  Img_5942 This is a wonderful B&B Donald and I had stayed at over Christmas.  Pierette is a friendly host and anyone who visits would fall in love with the house and the gardens.

Our first day we spent in the city of Strasbourg, a beautiful town with a very unique cathedral build out of sandstone.


The Alsace Region is known for great white wines like Riesling and Pinot Gris.  We spent one day driving through the vineyards and visited many of the small towns.  Most of the towns date back to the 1500’s.  It is just amazing to see such ancient structures still standing and the level of architectural details.

Donna was a great co-pilot while Donald was driving.  Don and I napped constantly.  Surely it was because, we were always on the sunny side of the car which created the perfect environment for a nap.  That's our story...and we are sticking to it! 

As we headed back to Brussels we stopped at the Haute-Koenigsbourg castle (  It was constructed in the 12th century, abandoned in 1633 and then restored between the years of 1900 and 1908.  It was Donna's first visit to a castle.

The drive to and from both locations was absolutely gorgeous.  The fields were green and plush, dotted with cows of every type.  It reminded Don of growing up on the farm and he was quite the tour guide by naming the different crops and cows.  There were also beautiful fields of yellow flowers.  Usually mustard flowers and sometimes rapeseed which is used to make canola oil.


Donald took us on a wild goose chase to find the "Big Chair" in the middle of the vineyard.  He had looked it up on Google Earth and thought it would be cool to see.  The only problem was...there were no roads and he was driving through the vineyard.  Don & Donald were enjoying the adventure, Donna and I were a bit nervous.  Needless to say, we did not get any closer.  But we did have a good laugh.


Img_7136With the weak dollar $1.62 = 1 euro,

Don had to hit the banking machine frequently!

His favorite joke of the trip was to discuss the value of the "American peso" with the Europeans.  Not sure they fully got the joke, but Don sure enjoyed it.

One day we went to Germany to have lunch.  In the afternoon we stopped for an ice cream break in a little town.  Everyone who knows me understands my love of ice cream.  But those of you who don't, well let's just say I will do ANYTHING for ice cream  :  ).  We all ordered and as I saw these big bowls of ice cream come towards me I was so excited.  But What?  My bowl was only one scoop!  Guess our German was not so good!


In case you are not feeling my pain, I have blown it up for greater clarity:


Everyone took pity on me and shared theirs.  The conclusion was I ate more than if I had a big bowl!

A few fun shots:





The top left photo is the castle that Malcome Forbes purchased in the 70's.  His family still owns it.  Chateau de Balleroy (

Other photos are various towns in France.

Back to Brussels to wash clothes and regroup for the next trip.  Poor Donald had to work in-between our trips.

Normandy:  In Normandy we stayed at two different places.  The first was a beautiful chateau - Chateau de Pont Rilly (  It was built in 1765.  After the Normandy invasion during WWII, it was used as a headquarters by the US Army.


It had all kinds of animals including a black swan,


martha stewart chickens, sheep, lambs, a donkey, even peacocks.  Have you ever heard the cry of a peacock?  LOUD.


Our rooms were in the Old Mill.  This was the view of the main house from our window.  We had a lovely breakfast in the main building and the owner gave us a tour of the private area of the chateau which has remained unchanged since the 18th century.  It was fully furnished with exquisite wooden paneling, rare marble fireplaces, antique furniture and accessories.  We have paid to tour châteaux that were not as nicely decorated as this place!

Couldn't resist adding this photo - they were so cute running all around us as we came and went.  Very friendly.


The second place we stayed was a smaller chateau with a llama.  Don said he would highly RECOMMEND it to anyone.   

We hired a guide Cousin Kelly told us about. Roel at Victory Tours ( he took us on a 5 hour tour of the WWII sites:  Landing beaches, cemeteries, German defense batteries, etc. 

He was very knowledgeable and had a wonderful sense of humor.  We also toured several museums.  It was amazing to see all the places that were so pivotal in American history (really, world history).

The Normandy American Cemetery is 172.5 acres, with 9,387 burials of US service men and women. Of this number, 307 are unknowns, three are Medal of Honor winners and four are women. (


In addition there are 33 pairs of brothers buried side by side. It is the largest American Cemetery from WW2, but not the largest in Europe: that is the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Belgium from WW1 with more than 14,000 burials. 

This is one of the German bunkers defending the landing zone.  The guns could shoot over 20 miles.  The ground surrounding the bunkers are still covered with bomb craters from the US ships firing during the landing.  From the back side, you could not see the hidden bunkers.


We visited the Abbaye De Jumieges.  Said to have been founded by St Philibert in 654 AD.  The abbey was burned by Vikings in 841, rebuilt a century later, then destroyed again – as a deliberate act – during the Revolution. Its main surviving outline dates from the eleventh century – William the Conqueror himself attended its re-consecration in 1067. 



This area also had great food.  Donna found two favorites, an apple brandy aperitif and the desserts!  One night we went out for crepes (a specialty of this area) and she decided that she was going to have the apple crepe as her main dish and then a hot fudge Sunday for dessert!  Isn’t that what vacations are all about?  We also had some of the best mussels we have ever eaten.

Honfleur, shown below, one of the most picturesque old fishing ports in France. Having escaped major damage in World War II, the working port looks like an antique. Honfleur dates from the 11th century. Artists, including Daubigny, Corot, and Monet, have long favored this port.


On the way home we stopped at Mont Saint-Michel.


According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.  ( 

Back home for one day - laundry, recoup and Donald worked.   

Paris:  Ah.....Paris the city of romance.......


and cafes...

Img_7117_2 Img_7178_2

and more cafes...

It called for rain but we got very lucky and only had rain late one evening.  Unfortunately it was our only time to see the Eiffel tower at night.  But the umbrellas do give it an added touch!  Don & Donna did a bus tour where they got to see all the major sites of the city. 


We leave you with a toast -


For Don and Donna's 70th birthdays which they will both celebrate this year (this trip was their gift to each other).

We hope you enjoyed seeing a little of our three week trip with Don & Donna.  Don is already planning for next year!


Two train tickets to Paris......50 euros
Boutique hotel in trendy Paris neighborhood.......200 euros
Waking up knowing you can eat Parisian pastries for breakfast........priceless!

We spent Friday and Saturday in Paris -----  It is the land of the fashionable, beautiful people.  Oh yes, and women with the skinniest legs in the world!  I seriously think my calf is bigger than most of their thighs.  Oh well, pass that pastry anyway!

The weather was unseasonable warm in Paris with sunny skies.  We visited the Orangerie museum ( and ate at several good restaurants. 
Unfortunately we do not have any photos because of the malfunction that occurred in Madrid......someone had too many Sangrias and tried to download the photos from the day (which included the Paris photos),
but she deleted them instead.  Yes, the Paris photos and one
day of Madrid - deleted!    She was oh so happy, yet oh so sad.


We arrived home late Saturday night from Paris and turned around Sunday morning for an early flight out to Madrid, Spain.  Donald was in business, me slumming in the back of the plane.  He was the ONLY one in the first 6 rows.  And they would NOT let me sit with him.  Nor would they let D switch with the man next to me.  But hey, my ticket was only $10!  He was very sweet and shared his breakfast with me ( I did not get any food). 

This is our hotel, Room Mate Laura. 
It was very large (especially for a city) with two bathrooms.  One was up the stairs on the 2nd floor in a glass cube.  The head board was quite unique.  It had a cool lobby as well. 
Cool things about Madrid:

* it is the capital of Spain
* the city never sleeps
* people are very friendly
* great tapas & sangrias
* great art museums
* stores are open on Sunday
* the cherry blossoms were blooming!

We were there for 5 nights and ate at 13 different Tapas bars.  Most restaurants do not open until 9 and people do not eat until 10.  This was too late for us so we ate at the Tapas Bars - hopping from one to another.

The most popular tapas are: grilled or pickled sardines, papas bravas, calamari - grilled, fried or as sandwiches, olives, and the biggest one......Iberico
ham (hanging behind D's head).  We ate at down and dirty dives to upscale Tapas.  We never quite figured out when they were open and closed.  But Sunday was by far the most crowded day.  Unfortunately, Spain is not a smoke free country yet.  We were lucky and were able to find bars that were not too smoky or had their doors open.  About half were standing only - meaning they did not have tables. 

Yes, Tammy, we do spend time doing things other than eating and drinking.  We hit many art museums on this trip.  The Prado Museum,(, the ReinaSofia  ( where there was an excellent Picasso exhibit, and the Thyssen-BorneMisza (  There was a very good exhibit on Modigliana. 

Madrid is not as fashionable or as cosmopolitan as Paris, Rome, or Barcelona, but it did have interesting buildings with very colorful pictures and tiles.

Children peeking through the gate at the royal Palace.

Okay, back to food.  A typical afternoon snack in Spain is very thick hot chocolate and churros.  Need I say more?

And last but not least, we would like to address the question in many of your minds, many of you have even asked.....does donald really work?  He would like everyone to know, that last week, he traveled on a sunday, worked all day monday and tuesday, got off at noon on wednesday, had off on thursday, traveled on Friday...oh yes, and he did take a conference call at 7 pm on Friday night.  Here is a photo of him checking his blackberry in the main square, Plaza Mayor.  So, mystery solved...he works {occassionally}!

We are home this week and off to Amsterdam for 7 days on Sunday!

Almost forgot.....Wednesday, March 5th will be our 6 month anniversary in Brussels.  Hard to believe!  We are going to dinner to celebrate.