Tuesday, September 22, 2015

South of France: An Introduction

Actual date of this event: 2-6 May

South. Of. France. Our most favorite *long* trip we have done! It was super busy, but at the same time, so extremely relaxing. Did you know that was possible?!? It is! Deciding where to stay for our seven nights was a tough choice... Originally, we planned to stay in Nice, Marseilles, and Avignon. After some research, it confused me even more! I was reading some not so great things about Nice, but at the same time being told Nice was a must visit, so I was debating to stay elsewhere. I had read amazing things about Avignon, so that was a must. As for Marseilles, I had read that it wasn't very special, just a port city with lots of art. In the end, I decided to go with (yes, "I decided" because Luke doesn't want to make any decisions so I plan everything) Nice for four nights and Avignon for three nights. After it was all said and done, I actually put both Nice and Avignon toward the lower end on my favorites list of all the places we visited during the week. That doesn't mean I didn't like them, I just wasn't wowed by them like I expected to be (especially Avignon). BUT both places were terrific bases for us as we wanted to explore other towns.

While in Nice, we actually didn't even go to the beach at all! Most people would say we were crazy, but why waste time on a beach when we could... climb castle hill for amazing views of the beach...
... visit the gorgeous quiet walled town of Antibes...
... walk the Monaco Grand Prix course two weeks before the actual event took place...
... feel like we were in heaven on the top of the mountain in Eze Village....
Avignon is well known for its nearby lavender fields, but we were two months too early for that. Instead, we roamed the famous Pope's Palace and the city's narrow streets.
The only pre-planning we did for the week was rent a car for a day. So our first full day in Avignon was spent driving around the region, stopping in little villages and towns, one in particular was special to us.
We also hopped on a train to visit some Roman ruins in Arles... we had no idea the south of France was filled with so many roman ruins!
And we decided to spend our last day in Nîmes, another old roman city.
I want to say that our favorite day was Eze Village, but I'd be lying. I want to say our favorite day was the road trip, but I'd be lying. I honestly can't decide what day was the best because it was all so incredibly wonderful that I cannot choose. The most shocking part of the whole experience was that, after we got back, I thought to myself "if I never travel again, I'd be okay because nothing will ever top this last week." Now that says a lot!
More to come... (but please be patient as I have over 2,500 pictures to sift thru.)

This map is the general area that is considered the "South of France". We only explored a tiny area of it.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ghent, Belgium

Actual date of this event: 20-22 March

Continuing on about our journey back to Belgium, we took a train from Brussels to Ghent around 3pm and were looking forward to exploring the city we missed during our first visit to Belgium. We arrived around 3:30pm, and then took the tram into the Historic Centre. Ghent wasn't quite as fairytale-like as Bruges. It was, however, less touristy and possibly the most gorgeous city at night. It also felt quite a bit like Amsterdam with some very picturesque buildings and canals.

After checking into our hotel, located in St-Baafsplein, we headed out to wander a little bit before dinner - seeing St Bavos Cathedral, Belfry Tower, Town Hall, and then made our way to het Waterhuis aan de Bierkart for a drink.

We took a walk along the canal to have dinner at Eerkaffee Multituli. Then, we checked out two bars on my list - Dulle Griet and Trollekelder - both located near Vrijdagmarkt, before called it a night around 11:30pm. Trollekelder was the kind of bar that if you order a meter of beer, they take your shoe from you, place it in a basket, then raise it high above the ground. Why? They want to make sure they get their meter glass back at the end of the night!

{The basket of shoes is hanging in the top left corner by Luke's head. The basket was overflowing by the time we left. How gross is it to go to the bathroom with a shoeless foot?!?!}
On Saturday, we had breakfast then headed out around 11:30am to be true tourists - St Bavos Cathedral again, Castle of Gerald the Devil, thru Vlasmarkt, and St James' Church.

{Above" Daytime picture of the bars we visited the night before.}
We came upon Vrijdagmarkt, which might be the prettiest square I've seen while traveling.

We crossed over the canal and headed toward the Old Fish Market and the Castle of the Counts. Don't Ghent's attraction names sound so medieval?

We decided to go into the castle since we really wouldn't be doing much else in Ghent. The castle itself wasn't all that, but there were some really pretty views from the top. It seemed as if every staircase we took gave us great views of the city.

After the castle, we took a long walk along the canal to the Rabot (I'm not quite sure what it is, but it stood at the end of the canal and looked like some sort of castle fort). We then looped our way back through a non-tourist area back to the castle.

It started pouring rain on us, so much that we couldn't continue walking, so we popped into a pub for a beer and some soup to warm up. After the rain let up, we crossed the canal to St Michael's Church. The view of all of the buildings back across the canal was gorgeous!!

Unfortunately, it started raining again, so we stopped into a pub in St-Baafsplein before grabbing our rain jackets from the hotel. Then we headed to Vrijdagmarkt for a pre-dinner drink at 't Vrij Gevoel Dags (because all of these drinks so far are just normal day drinks...).

I made us a reservation at Amadeus II for all you can eat ribs for dinner. Brilliant idea because the place was fully booked, so we saw many people get turned away. We left there so stuffed, and it's one of the few times I have seen Luke leave uneaten food on his plate. He actually got slightly upset with the rib man who kept putting more on Luke's plate. Hah! There are several locations of Amadeus, and we ate at the one by Stadthalle (City Pavilion).

We needed a walk very badly, so we wandered along the main canal taking in the sight of the beautifully lit up buildings.

We realized that we had been in Belgium for about 36 hours and had only eaten one waffle, so our tummies quickly made room. Ghent actually doesn't have many waffle joints, but there was one by Pensmarkt. I'm a plain waffle girl - no whipped cream, no strawberries, no chocolate, no bananas, nothing but the hidden sugar crystals in its batter - but somehow this waffle lady talked me into getting a massive amount of strawberries with a huge mound of cream on top. Before we knew it, we were hanging over 14EU (~$15.50) for our two waffles! She knew what she was doing from the start grrrrr. After our waffles, we headed back to Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkart for a few last drinks of the evening before heading to sleep.

The next morning, we had a few hours before we needed to catch our train back to Brussels, and then back to London, so we decided to make the 1.5 mile walk to the train station and see some of the less visited areas of Ghent along the way. We walked along the canal, visited the Sunday flower market, walked through the Sint Pietersplein where a spring festival took place the day before, and lastly around the city park.

We hopped on our train back to Brussels, then made our way back to London via EuroStar at 4pm. When I got back from this trip, I recommended Ghent to a friend who was visiting Belgium a few weeks after us, and I was pleased to hear they enjoyed it as well. I say it should definitely go on the list for anyone visiting Belgium! Even though there isn't a whole lot to Ghent, it was a gorgeous city to spend the weekend, even if it did rain on us. It sure got us back into our traveling groove for 2015!


Meat-Free Day is promoted every Thursday in Ghent with many restaurants participating in the scheme. Besides Thursdays, Ghent has more vegetarian restaurants than any other city in the world!

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