Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

My 2 sons were bored with the same holiday destination year after year each Summer. “It has become too predictable“, they said.

My younger son whinged, “Why are we always spending our summer hols in the Provence? We’re becoming the real experts of South France and Van Gogh!” *chuckle*

Hmmm… true!

So, early this year, while planning our annual family summer getaway, hubby and I rethought our summer destination.

Hubby prefers to drive and rents a holiday cottage rather than flying and staying in hotels if the stay is a week or more. By excluding France in the picture, we went for the elimination theory. Germany is too near and the summer weather sucks! Just like Belgium and the UK! Luxembourg is too small. We have been to the Netherlands and they speak pretty much the same language (as Flemish), hence nothing new.

The weather played an important role in the choice of our holiday destination, too. It’s got to be warmer than Belgium!

Oh-kay! Got it!

Spain!

Si Señor(a)! España, por favor!

Mind you, it’s almost 1.5k km away! I told hubby to split our summer hols by staying a night or two half way through the journey somewhere in mid or South France and then to resume with the rest of the journey to Spain. Instead, hubby opted to rent La Maison Blanche at St-Rémy-de-Provence for the entire week and 2 weeks in Spain! So yes, we were back in the Provence … again! 🙂

Well, anyway we were super excited and my younger son was especially thrilled to learn about our NEW summer destination… finally! 🙂

We’re headed to Caldes de Malavella in the province of Girona, North East Spain. Very little is known of Caldes de Malavella. It’s a sleepy town, by the way. However, we found out that the place was formerly renowned for its thermal baths or spas!

The remains of the Ancient Roman Bath in Caldes, for instance. Photo credit to Josep Renalias (Wikipedia).

We have never got any closer to the city because the summer residence we’re headed for was self-contained, and very well connected to other cities in Spain. That’s a plus point for us.

By the way, our knowledge of Spain as a holiday destination was nil. Zero! Being first timers to Catalonia, our summer hols this year became more challenging. We have only heard and read about the popular coastal region of Costa Brava and of course Barcelona, so Barca’s definitely on our itinerary! Other than that, we knew the eccentric Spanish artist and surrealist icon, Salvador Dali came from that region.

From La Maison Blanche to Can Fonzo

After one nostalgic week in South France, we left La Maison Blanche en route to Girona. The GPS flashed a distance of ca 370 km, and ETA at around 2 pm.

It was late morning on a Saturday and with a heavy traffic from Béziers all the way to Costa Brava, our ETA stretched to almost 6 pm when we arrived at Villa Can Fonzo in Caldes de Malavella.

OMG! The house was huge! I did not expect that at all. It’s located on a hill slope.

According to Barcelona Life, “Caldes became a prosperous place and today around the outskirts of the town you’ll find plenty of attractive private mansions and summer residences, built in the Modernista – ie. Catalan art nouveau – style.”

So true!

When I entered the house, I exclaimed, “oh oh, I will have to remember where I place my handphone or cable or the charger or just about anything… ” Lol!

South East Asian Connections

The house is owned by a Dutch couple. It’s interesting to see their connections with Asia within the house.

I was looking for coffee mugs in the kitchen cabinet, and found these mugs. Singaporeans may know this pottery factory 😉

And of course several memorabilia of Indonesia, being once a Dutch colony.

There’re many books of Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on the many book shelves in the house, too.

We have never met the owners, but they left a strong message behind 😉

First Meal in Spain

After exploring the house, I decided to cook us a simple meal of Fusilli all’Arrabbiata, with the fresh chillies, garlic and fusilli I brought from Belgium and red peppers, dried herbs, smoked bacon and tomatoes from the Provence in the kitchen at Can Fonzo.

A simple yet satisfying meal 😉

While enjoying my plate of Fusilli and a glass of rosé on the patio, I gazed ahead of me a vision of a new and exciting tomorrow 😉

Ah …. what Peace and Serenity …. until I heard the buzzing sound of mosquitoes flapping their wings!

Arghhhh!!!!

Have a Blessed week!

Cheers!

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Our holidays in the Provence were coming to an end…

Arles

We returned to Arles, but again and again, what a surprise… we discovered a new location that we had not been to in our previous sojourns in the Provence! It’s a drawbridge which was a subject of several paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. It was the replica of the original Langlois Bridge (Pont de Langlois) or better known as Pont Van Gogh.

Walk

Nearby the Pont Van Gogh was a lovely walking trail that seemed to run to infinity. The surrounding flora were very simple; dried thistles, wild berries, shrubs and bushes, fathomless stream and dusty trails.

We seemed to be walking for ages until thirst and hunger got the better of us 🙂

We returned to the car and drove back to the centre of Arles. We found a good spot under a shady tree but had to walk quite a distance passing deserted alleys and back lanes.

We finally stopped at the first resto we saw, Le Bistrot des Artistes. Surprisingly, the choice of dishes were fab, but the service was quite slow, despite the fact that we did not order a set lunch for once. From too much of walking, we did not feel like eating too much variety of dishes, but were definitely more parched. Or perhaps we wanted to save space in our tummy for the much talked about artisanal ice-creams in Arles!

Last year my friend and her family stayed in Arles and she recommended an ice-cream parlour that served only artisanal ice-creams.

We thought we found it. It’s located just outside Le jardin de la Maison de Santé à Arles de Vincent Van Gogh (once upon a time a hospital). Whew! It’s a bit of a mouthful, innit?

It was there that Van Gogh was admitted after cutting his left earlobe. The Hospital of Arles is the subject of Van Gogh’s 2 paintings; one of them was the painting of the inner courtyard of the hospital called Le jardin de la Maison de Santé à Arles (Courtyard or Garden of the Hospital in Arles).

Oh by the way, the pink-coloured ice cream parlour we went to (Glacier Fraîcheur et Délices) was not the one my friend mentioned. She went to the yellow coloured ice cream shop called Soleileis. Anyway, there were several artisanal ice-cream makers in the vicinity of Arles. We just found one that succeeded to ‘cool’ us down on a hot day and both parlours were in close proximity to Place du Forum.

Unfortunately, the day was still young and there were no stars in the sky! Sorry, no starry night, Vincent 😉

Finally at Le Bistrot de La Galine!

It was Friday and our last day at La Maison Blanche. We were to check out the next morning.

Before wrapping up our stay at La Maison Blanche, we were looking forward to lunch at the nearby Le Bistrot de La Galine. We had missed that place just a week before because it was closed on a Sunday.

I had the Bistro menu of smoked duck salad and the local specialty of Camargue, Gardiane de Taureau à la Provençale served on a bed of tagliatelle. Both the starter and the main course were good until the house dessert came. The banana chocolate tart was an anticlimax, for me at least. It was just not my favourite, however, my younger son hit a home run with his choice of dishes; ravioli, burger and fries and tiramisu!

Back for the Muscat

Last year our trip to Beaumes-de-Venise was extraordinarily special with a hint of nostalgia. This year we only went to the wine tasting cave of Coyeaux. Yes, we came back for the muscat Beaume-de-Venise! After tasting 4 different Muscats, hubby bought the muscat Beaume de Venise rosé (2016). The 3 bottles followed us back some 1k km…

Knock! Knock! Who’s there?

We headed back to La Maison Blanche and guess who came to visit us?!!

Yay!!! Our friend came back! He may not have the friendliest of faces, but I guess for a dog’s expression that would probably be translated as his sensing our imminent departure from La Maison Blanche, hence the sad drooping look through the glass door of the back yard.

By the way (not in the photo), before the littlest hobo scampered away, he peed on the shrub bed, as if to tell us that he’d be back.

I’m sure he would or did, but with new tenants to pick up where we had left off…

Bonjour! Merci! Au revoir!

À bientôt!

Until we meet again!

From Bonjour to Hola!

We checked out La Maison Blanche at 10 am and left St-Rémy-de Provence in South France direction Girona, North East Spain!

Thus, ended our Provençal vacation, and the beginning of Catalonian summer escapades!

From Bonjour et Au revoir France to Hola España!

Spain, here we come !!

To be continued…

Enjoy the rest of the week. TGIF!

Cheers !

It’s Wednesday and it’s Market Day at St-Rémy-de-Provence!

Boy was it crowded that morning AND the searing heat of the sun did not do justice.

As usual, there were lots to see but we ended up buying a few Savon de Marseille 🙂

I wished I could buy everything, however, we had to be very selective with things we bought in order not to overload the car in our succeeding journey 😦

Feeling Nostalgic

We suddenly felt peckish and parched in the sweltering Provençal summer heat. What luck when we saw the same resto we went to last year! We knew immediately what Brasserie La Maison des Varietes at Boulevard Victor Hugo would offer… Sweet memory of a delectable dining.

Loved the Café gourmand!!! The mignardises or petit fours were exquisite!

Musée Estrine

After the satisfying meal, we needed a good stretch while walking down some quiet and almost deserted alleys that were obviously very welcoming after the maddening crowd earlier in the morning.

We stopped at Musée Estrine, the museum that features the history of the eccentric Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The Van Gogh exhibit, although a small one, features the chronology of his life and the hundreds of letters he wrote to his brother, Theo. The short video was well made aligning his paintings to the beauty of the Alpilles and the region.

Mas de la Dame

We left the museum and headed for Les-Baux-de-Provence.

By the way, hubby’s intention was to go to the winery of Mas de la Dame meaning ‘farm of the lady‘. What a proper name for a winery owned by 2 ladies, Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Missoffe 😉

Hubby bought 3 bottles of their white wine. And yes, there was wine-tasting 🙂

Save the Best for Last!

So true! We saved the best of our last few hours at Les-Baux-de-Provence by immersing in an impressive exposition of lights and sounds by the creative and imaginative renaissance painters, Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo.

The moment we stepped inside the former quarry, now called Carrières de Lumières, we entered into a magical world of entrancing images and music.

Fantastique et merveilleux!

We enjoyed the different genres of music, while our eyes were transfixed on the immersive paintings of the trio on all the limestone walls and floors in the quarry.

One word? Spectacular !

The Carrières de Lumières is one of the most amazing things we have experienced during this Summer trip, thus far …

Could anything else top this up the next days?

I wonder …

Cheers!

Cock-a-doodle-dooooo!

Although I have never seen the neighbourhood cockerel, he seems to know when to crow at the precise time daily. I was awoken by his crow at exactly 8 am. I know it would be a rather late wake up call for those who have to get up to rush to work, but hey, it’s my holiday and I didn’t mind the 8 o’clock morning call one bit.

With the heatwave the past 3 days, it finally rained at St-Rémy-de-Provence. With a mild stroke of mistral, it was nice sleeping through the night without the fan on for once. The rain and wind cooled down the temperature giving way to gloomier skies. I didn’t mind a bit because it was our stay-at-home day.

Home-working

I shouldn’t be doing that during my vacation but I had to do it as there were some unfinished tasks that needed to be completed. I was working in the living room but the table was too low, so I had to improvise by stacking enough books to elevate my laptop. It was not the most comfortable position to work, but it was a temporary solution …

Spagbol

While working at my laptop, I was juggling with my tasks in the kitchen. Remember I had to rush down the aisles with the shopping trolley at Intermarché because we were short on time on a Sunday morning?

<< Flashback

It was 11.39 am. We headed straight for Intermarché, not realising that it was closed at 12 noon. We were dilly-dallying along the aisles browsing through some stuffs, until an agitated looking duty manager rushed us for time. If only you could see how I flung the shopping trolley down each aisle, grabbing items while picturing spagbol in my mind! Okay, I believed I had everything, or did I??!!

>> Fast Forward

Oh kay! Home-cooked Spagbol for lunch it was!

And by the way, I did forget the grated cheese! Ah well, we didn’t miss it as it’s not THE main ingredient in the making of spagbol. 😉

A Visitor

The spagbol went down very well, so much so we had a “visitor” at our door that afternoon. He must have sniffed the bolognese sauce from afar and walked his way to the front yard. He reminded me of The Littlest Hobo.

And then he left the compound in a mysterious way …You know what? He’ll come back for sure because he had just given us the signal “this is my territory and I’ll be back!

We shall see …

Cheers !

Have you heard of Sel de mer La Baleine or Le Saunier de Camargue?

When we had one of our lunches in Arles, Le Saunier de Camargue was seen placed liberally on every table alongside a bottle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Mind you, this sea salt is not some cheap table salt. It’s one of the finest, produced in Camargue, or more specifically, on the salt marshes in Salin-de-Giraud, situated just next to the River Rhône. By the way, Sel de mer La Baleine and Le Saunier de Camargue are the salt brands from the production of sea salt at Salin-de-Giraud.

And that’s where we’re headed to.

Our GPS navigated a distance of 98km from La Maison Blanche with an ETA at 1.05 pm (ca 1.5 hours).

Last year, I bought some 2 kg of Le Saunier de Camargue. It was good to be back to actually visit the less known side of Camargue, id est, visiting the salt marshes or salt flats of Salin-de-Giraud. ‘Salin‘ is saline in English meaning a solution of salt in water.

When Blue becomes Red

The normally blue water turns red under high salt concentration, thus making the blood red water landscape phenomenally striking. Nothing we have seen before.

Curiosity killed the cat. We had to get closer to the bloody water pan.

If you are wondering, actually the red or pink colour of the salt flats is due to the presence ~ in large quantities ~ of microscopic algae (Dunaliella Salina), rich in beta carotene and antioxidant activity. Got this info from the instruction board, here below 😉

It is, however, unclear how often the phenomenon occurs, but we’re lucky to have experienced the most picturesque sight where salt has been the lifeblood of the region for years!

Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer

The temperature was at its highest at 38C! We left the salt pan of Salin-de-Giraud at 1.30 pm to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer. It’s interesting to discover that the town is named after three Marys (Mary of Clopas, Mary Salome and Mary Magdalene), who were said to have arrived there by sea.

It was also at Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer, that Vincent Van Gogh made several paintings of the seascape and town, the famous one being the Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in June 1888.

With the scorching sun above our heads, we found the best place to shelter and take comfort at Bistro La Mama Sita. Being so close to the sea, the seafood salad was spot on. And so was the entrecôte of bull steak. It was a huge portion, especially so when the bulls have the predominant presence in the Camargue! Hubby had the famous local specialty dish of Camargue called La Gardiane de Taureau (slow-cooked Camargue bull stew) served with Camargue rice. I must say all the dishes we ordered were mouth-wateringly sublime.

With all the dishes we had consumed in such hot weather, we made a short stroll along the Promenade Charles de Gaulle.

The beach was packed with very tanned looking locals and holiday-makers. We felt out of place and at the same time, I could feel the blazing heat penetrating my skin, so we left Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer. The boys were looking forward to taking a dip in the pool back at La Maison Blanche .

While I walked around the house taking snapshots of what became a chronicled narrative of our Summer getaway in the Provence 🙂

A Blessed Sunday!

Cheers!

We had a good night sleep despite the heat (36C). It must be because we were dead tired from the super lengthy journey under the blazing heat of the Provençal Summer.

Sunday, 6th August

We were looking forward to the most unique annual Floating Market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which takes place for only one day on the 1st Sunday of August! We wouldn’t miss it for the world because we missed that last year as we had special friends over at our holiday home that day. You can read the post here.

So we got up early in order to catch the supposedly unique and spectacular floating market on time. After all, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is dubbed as the Venice of France and we came this far not to miss the eye-catching event. I was super thrilled!

By the way, it was drizzling that morning, hence, it was a welcoming feeling. The cooler breeze was an excellent change from the blistering heat the day before.

We reached L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue at 10am. The morning Market went in full swing… BUT where’s the Floating Market ???!!! Nothing’s floated while everything’s grounded!

Wasn’t 6th August, 2017 the first Sunday of August ?? We were conned!! Darn!

The market was the normal weekly Sunday morning market so typical of the Provence.

What a shame… No Floating Market. No spectacular nego chins but just this lonely vacant boat berthing on one of the water canals.

Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

We did not stay long at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue as it was a Sunday and our pantry at La Maison Blanche was as bare as stone.

It was 11.39 am. We headed straight for Intermarché, not realising that it was closed at 12 noon. We were dilly-dallying along the aisles browsing through some stuffs, until an agitated looking duty manager rushed us for time. If only you could see how I flung the shopping trolley down each aisle, grabbing items while picturing spagbol in my mind! Okay, I believed I had everything, or did I??!!

We drove back to La Maison Blanche and hurriedly filled the kitchen pantry and the fridge before stepping out of the house again.

4 Rumbling Tummies

We had not had any decent food since we arrived the day before, hence, we were in dire need of FOOD!

It was 1.15 pm and hubby wanted to bring us to Le Bistrot de La Galine, which was not far from La Maison Blanche. Hubby had good memories of a fab meal there when he and his brother and our older son went there in 2014 while our younger son and I went to Rome when my Mum and older sis came to visit us that year.

But…. alas! Le Bistrot de La Galine was closed on Sundays!!

Our tummies! Our poor rumbling tummies! I told hubby that we should drive to the centre of St-Rémy-de-Provence as chances are high that the restos are opened on a Sunday. Fingers crossed to that!

Phew! What luck! A few cafés and brasseries were still in business at that hour. It was 2 pm and Brasserie de L’industrie at Boulevard Mirabeau saved our bellies!

I had a superb meal of pavé de thon (grilled tuna) with sautéed carrot, courgette, aubergine and tomato and some rice. The boys had a hearty men’s meal of hamburger with fries. Ironically, our dessert was îles flottantes (Floating islands)!!!!

The service was fast, precise and friendly. The dishes were simple but superb, and the price tag was correct. What could I say more? Bullseye!

Happy Weekend!

Cheers!

Hey folks! I’m back!! My blog has been in comatose status for quite a while, I know. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, most unfortunately 😦

By the way, this is a scheduled post 😉

Friday, 4th August

Hubby, my boys and I were counting down the days to our annual Summer hols! We were to leave on Saturday. I wish I could say TGIF, but it’s still a workday for me. I told my colleagues that I had to urgently WFH that day due to too many last minute activities. Besides my office workload, I had made an appointment with my bank to pick up my new Silver Credit Card. The old one was expiring soon.

Good thing I had pre-packed my clothes the evening before. I was hoping for less stress, unlike last year! You can read it all here 🙂

I had to take care of the foods, drinks, snacks and our lunch boxes for our impending lengthy journey of ca 1k km. Travelling super light was not possible as there’re 4 of us, all grown ups. My hubby’s car boot was packed to the gills!

Like last year, I asked hubby what our ETD was going to be. He replied, “when everyone feels like waking up

That made me even more nervous as I hate being late or being caught in a traffic jam!

Okay, our ETD strategy changed completely, which, surprisingly, worked a charm! You’ll find out why …

No waking up time was mentioned. No ETD was broached. No alarm was set. All we needed to do was to sleep through the night and woke up according to the inherent timing of our biological clock!

By the way, I was awakened by my biological clock at 5.20 am. The guys were still in deep sleep. So yes, I was the first one to get up, as usual 🙂

Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain …

How could this happen? We’re in the midst of the Summer season and it’s raining cats and dogs! We have never left for our Summer hols on a rainy day. Anyway, the sounds of the raindrops were hypnotic and relaxing at the same time. But what a damper to having to drive on an extremely wet day. Now I understood why hubby said to wake up when we felt like waking up. We have all gone through our deep, light and REM sleep cycles, and we were all completely awake. Cool!

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, here we come … AGAIN!!!!!

With a total distance of almost 1k km, our ETA was 3.55 pm. We left at 6.47 am.

Rain, rain go away, come again another day! The combination of the soothing heavy rain on the highway with the monotonous sound of the windscreen wiper were amazingly mesmeric. Everyone was as quiet as a church mouse in the car which was a perfect mode for hubby to traverse the wet and dreary roads of the Belgian highway with full focus.

When we finally reached Luxembourg for gasoline, the skies were a lot bluer but cloudy.

We know we have reached France when the inescapable sign “péage” (toll) is posted on the French “autoroutes“. Good thing we have the BIP&GO pass which is an electronic toll payment badge that allows us to travel on the entire French motorway network. It is the most convenient way to travel on the European Motorway, meaning as our car approached the tolls, the barrier will automatically lift, without us having to stop and pay at the toll booth. Shorter queues and a time saver!! We need only to pay at the end of our trip(s) where direct debit payments are made at the end of the month.

The cloudy skies made way for clear blue skies and suddenly we felt a ray of sunshine.

And then the voice from the GPS chanted, “There are traffic disruptions on the route. An alternative route cannot be recommended.”

Oh-oh! Time to have a break before being trapped in the gridlocks from Valence to Montelimar to Orange. Yup, we know the Black Saturday drill by heart 😉

We stopped just a bit after Lyon at 10 am for brunch and left the highway rest area at 11 am with the soaring temperature at 35C. With such heat, every single car leaving the rest area was given cold and refreshing Volvic fruit juice water. Precisely what we needed!

And so we were caught in the traffic jam for more than 2 hours under the scorching sun of 39C!

Finally the last leg of the traffic jam ended at 6 pm. Our ETA shifted too. We finally arrived at Saint-Rémy-de Provence. The familiar avenue of trees so typical of that region was a welcoming sight.

We reached La Maison Blanche at 7.11 pm and sweated buckets with the mercury level of 36C!! I quickly checked the temperature at home and it was only 17C! Wow! What a difference, eh? We didn’t feel like going out with the heat that evening, so the guys ended up dipping themselves in the swimming pool while I had a cold shower. I remembered La Maison Blanche, as it was not the first time we were there. It was my second stay there and the third for hubby and our older son.

The house has not changed since my last stay there in 2012 (you can read the post here). Just that we have become 5 years older 😦

What’s in store for us the next days were memories that would remain pristine in our psyche. And I wonder what’s coming up next? Stay with me in my new adventure to the unknown …

See ya …

Cheers!