Tuesday, April 27, 2010

sun, seafood, wine, sun, fries, and chocolate.

Spring break! What can I say. An amazing week which was as full as it could be, considering the volcano action going on up north.

4 of us rented a car Saturday morning and drove down from Paris to La Rochelle. After about 5 hours of snacking too much, dancing in the car, and taking pics of the French countryside, we finally arrived in La Rochelle. Even with our TomTom GPS, "Betty," we managed to take a full tour of the town... multiple times, before arriving at our hotel. I've never been a fan of one-way streets.

Anyway, I'd never been so excited to see the sun and lie on the beach for an afternoon. Paris gloom to La Rochelle sun - yes, please!

a relaxing afternoon in the sun

Harbor at La Rochelle

The town is quite beachy with tourists and locals alike walking around the main square donning their sunglasses and sandals. We had a late dinner at one of the many seafood restaurants lining the old harbor and then we proceeded to take a stroll along the waterfront. The fact that even the little kids were still out so late at night really reminded me of my whereabouts... Europe = late dinners = toddlers are still out at 11pm.

On Sunday we took a leisurely drive to lunch at a neighboring island, Île de Ré. After driving across the Coronado-like long bridge, we reached the gorgeous island, so green and bursting with sunshine.

We walked around the local brocante (flea market) and admired all the odds and ends that had been collected over the years.

brocante along the waterfront (with the obligatory carousel found in the central square of every French town)

For lunch, I had fresh shrimp/langoustines as an appetizer, followed by a dorade (sea bream), and delicious pineapple & blackcurrant sorbet for dessert!

my dorade - love the colorful plate

And with the way we were sitting and my orientation toward the sun, I even got a tan during lunch! [even if it was just on my left arm...]

We spent the afternoon making our way to Bordeaux:

As we drove over the Pont de Pierre, we were welcomed with a city brimming with people strolling along the clean open spaces and dancing in the shallow pool/fountain in the ground. After checking in, we explored downtown a bit and decided this is where we'd move after our stages... a sunny city, full of people, with a seemingly brighter vibe. The tram ran through the center of town, and people seemed a lot more laid back... maybe I just saw the optimistic tourists but, it was great!

driving into the city

Monday was a chill day where we walked around a lot and indulged in some chocolate and Bordeaux's famous canelés from THE canelé shop: Baillardran.... mmm!

canelés from Baillardran!

lunch at Pain et Cie, a cute rustic restaurant

yummy spreads and juice for sale

playing in the fountain

one of the many rows of colorful flowers

Oh and we had an amazing dinner at Chez Paulette (24 rue Saint Rémi, 33000 BORDEAUX). I started with fish quenelles/salad and then had some braised beef cheeks/potatoes. Dessert was salted butter caramel ice cream in a canelé, profiterole style... and it was only 23, including wine!

We also found the Office of Tourism planned our visits to the neighboring chateaux in St.

Émilion! Tuesday morning was spent driving 30-40 minutes to the vineyards and trying to find the particular chateau for which we had a reservation... all of them blended together and the entrances were like mini driveways which came and went sooner than expected. Let's just say that we made many a U-turn and had to drive slowly as to not pass the entrance... 20 minutes after the tour had already started, we found it!

This was the sign informing us that we had finally reached our first destination... it was difficult trying to find just Figeac since there were other chateaux like Cormeil Figeac, Bellevue-Figeac, La Tour du Pin Figeac, and all the other chateaux with the word "Figeac"

Chateau-Figeac. A 'premier grand cru classé"

Then we made our way to Chateau Laniote, where we were met by the owner who informed us that he had to make an emergency trip to the hospital and that we would be given a tour of his friend's chateau, Chateau Saint-Esprit.

Chateau Saint-Esprit. A much smaller and private chateau.

The owner giving us a more intimate wine tasting with 4 different wines!

driving through the very narrow streets of St. Emilion

We made our way back to Paris that night where I proceeded to make a Plan B for the second half.... no more Oslo and Stockholm because of the volcano in Iceland. Brussels and Bruges, here I come!

Thursday morning I took the train to Brussels, stopping in Lille (France) for a 2-hour layover. It's a cute town with its cobblestone streets and sidewalks. As I had a couple hours to kill, I just explored and eventually made my way to the second train station (arrived in one station, departed from another).

I love all the colorful buildings in Lille

Having arrived in Brussels around lunchtime, I walked around and had some carbonnade (beef stewed in beer) with a Kriek beer (red and fruity!).

late lunch of carbonnade and Kriek

Grand' Place/Grote Markt

Mannekin Pis - much smaller than I thought!

J. Dandoy - the premier biscuit company in Brussels

Among other things, I saw a panoramic view of the city from the rooftop of a parking structure, spent an evening watching old Belgian commercials and video clips at Cinematek, strolled through the Royal Park, walked through tunnels lined with paintings on the walls, and made a bargain at the huge flea market... oh and I might've visited a handful (or two) of chocolate shops and tasted some as well...

typical Belgian style of dress?? Especially the tights... love the whole get-up.

If Brussels was anything to blog about, then goodness - you HAVE to visit Bruges! It is by far the cutest and quaint little town I've ever seen. First, once you get out of the station, you're met by rows and rows of bikes. I'm guessing people live in Bruges but take the train to go to work?

hope there's never a domino effect!

There are tons of bridges and canals and adorable little buildings/houses. I spent the next 24 hours walking all around and visiting various little shops and sites (including the Bruggemuseum-Volkskunde = old-style museum and a lace shop)...

Markt (the central square)

one of the many canals with a tourist boat

tiny courtyard in Hof Bladelin

my new backyard.

Dinner was consumed in a local place (apparently very popular as they had to turn people away after I took the last table!) with homemade soup, bread, and beer all for just 4€! I spent the evening at an outdoor concert that happened to be on... something with amateur musicians or something like that... thank goodness I brought my sweatshirt and socks at the last minute! I was freezing!! I ended up getting some real Belgian fries at 9pm to "warm" up...

hot and salty --- mmmm!

view from my window in the hostel

The next morning I finished exploring the rest of town before my train at 11am... I started with a breakfast for champions (chocolate-drizzled waffle, hot chocolate, and Speculoos chocolate truffle) before wandering to discover even more that the town had to offer.

NOW I know why Belgium is known for their waffles. I never really liked waffles in the US, but here, oh my gosh. The sugary crystals in the middle and amazingness of them all. If only all waffles could be like that.

onlookers watch the sugar-pulling process... [taken from inside the shop]

map of Bruges made of lace

swans hanging out along the canal

beguinage (small female Catholic community)

pretty flowers in the beguinage

can't go to Belgium without coming back sans chocolate!

I came back to Paris after another 2-hour layover in Lille... this time it was bright, sunny, 18°C instead of 8°C (like it was during my first lay0ver), and full of people. Gotta love it!

back at home with all my goods...


  1. Ahh - Ling! I need to stop reading your blog because it makes me so envious... I wish I could have gone on all of these trips with you. It sounds like an amazing spring break!

  2. We are so pleased you are making the MOST of your time in Europe...LUCKY U!!!
    Your pics brought back many wonderful memories for us...