Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mouse, Mousie and Mouselette!

I mentioned in the previous post how much we loved our hotel in Provence, Mas D'Aigret. The family running the place really was amazing and thoughtful with their hospitality. When we arrived they offered us the family room at the same price as the regular (cheaper!) triple room I had reserved, and whose rate I had already negotiated down. Yeah! It ended up a perfect floor plan for us and was the cherry atop our Provence vacation. Connor loved running in circles through the 2 bedroom with adjoining bath suite. And she fell especially hard for the 3 mice stuffed animals in Mom's room. Together they named them "Mouse, Mous-ie, and Mouse-lette!" We looked up the words to "Three Blind Mice" and sang it more times than we want to remember. Funny how such a simple addition to a room can make all the difference! The view from our hotel was a showstopper. I couldn't believe our luck to be right in the middle of nowhere and for 'nowhere' to be so comforting and spectacular. That said, Mas D'Aigret was also in the middle of everything in terms of the tourist towns and attractions. This hotel was the first where I didn't find the recommendation from a guide book, but rather on Tripadvisor. Finding a hotel that was available, reasonably-priced, and central actually proved pretty difficult (guess it is a popular time of year) so I was delighted the choice was a good one. I mean, just check out these views from our room.... The patio below our room was green and festive. Mom and I agreed this would be the perfect spot for a wedding/wedding party.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

First Impressions of Provence

When my Mom planned her trip we wanted to get out into the European countryside and to enjoy the experience without having a million city sites to see. So we thought Provence, France would be the perfect spot. We stayed in a country town called Les Baux-en-Provence nestled in the enormous rocky faces of Alpilles mountains. Our hotel, Mais d’Aigret, was a wonderful spot in the middle of nowhere and we adored our ‘family room’ with 2 separate bedrooms and an adjoining bath. The walls were stone and very fitting of the Provencal motif. I was shocked by Provence. Not sure what I was expecting but the huge stone mountains were indeed inspirational and made me want to pull out my paintbrush and do what Van Gogh, Cezanne and so many did here – capture the changing light all over the landscape in a painting.
Day One and we explored many of the Luberon Hill towns in Provence. Breakfast in the charming town of Lourmarin started us off right. We picked up bread and pastry at a boulangerie and absorbed the foggy start to what was to become a hot, blue sky day. I love this photo. I mean does it get any more "French" than this? Buying bread on a Saturday morning with Mom in a pink princess dress...Next we traveled through Bonnieux, over the remaining Roman bridge of St Julien Bridge, and into the photographer’s dream town of Roussillon. Rick Steves calls Roussillon the "Santa Fe of France", and indeed with the brilliant red rocks against the adobe type architecture it is easy to see the comparison. Mom found a tablecloth for a bargain price and I loved the dramatic colors of the village. What a find! We also drove to the Abbey de Senanque which is pictured in so many postcards with purple lavender fields all around. The lavender is a month away from blooming, but we could see a tiny hint of the purple hue. We drove through the bustling town of Gordes and it looked like a fun place to linger longer too - but you know us, we had to keep pressing on. Next up was a visit to Avignon. This walled city was literally built into the rock and beside a river that was once the home for the Popes…another Vatican and the home of Christendom. In the 1300s the Vatican moved the entire headquarters of the Catholic Church to Avignon. I gather from our books that a French pope was elected and at the urging of the French king, Pope Clement V decided he'd had enough of unholy Italy. So he loaded up his carts and moved to Avignon. The Catholic Church literally bought Avignon and popes resided here until 1403.
We enjoyed crepes for lunch in the cloister area of the Palais des Papes and then wound our way through the shops to the medieval Avignon bridge, made famous by a French nursery rhyme. Every week in our French music class we sing this song with a chorus of :
Sur le pont, d’Avignon
On y danse, On y danse

(translated "on the bridge of Avignon, one dances there, one dances there")
So of course we had to dance and dance in the bright green grass in front of the famous Avignon bridge of our French nursery tune!
We finished out the afternoon with a visit to the large Roman aqueduct, Pont de Gard, and then on to a sushi dinner in Aix-en-Provence along the grand avenue of Cours Mirabeau. Aix-en-Provence (pronounced “ex”) is a city nicknamed “Sex en Provence” because of all the wealthy, well-dressed, sexy people there. Indeed the people watching proved tons of fun. The market produce in Aix-en-Provence was unbelievable. I mean check out those artichokes and the tomatoes!Connor wasn't so sure about the sticky rice at the sushi place. It stuck like glue to her hands!I couldn't wait to figure out the Provencal treasures the next day had in store for us after such a full, fun start!

Click here for all photos of our Provence adventure with Kirk (Full Album)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cat and the Hats!

We took the obligatory trip to Bruges with Mom on a interesting weather day that ping-ponged between sunny and stormy at the drop of a hat. I wish I was a better tour guide in Bruges. I think I probably should just go there one day on my own to scout out the best "tourist route" because right now I feel like I lead our visitors around in circles around Bruges and struggle mightily with parking and timing the meters. We of course love Dumon Chocolate, the Half Moon Brewery and going to see the windmills on the edge of town. The town is quaint and charming, but I would love to explore the beguinage, take a canal cruise and more easily navigate between the churches. I have yet to climb the belfry mostly because it is costly (8 euro per person!) and every time I have been the sky has not been clear. So who wants to pay that much for a crummy view?
Mom came up with the good idea to bring a picnic with some of the birthday party leftovers. So we camped out with all the senior citizen tour groups on the benches in the main market square and ate our sandwiches. This was fun and Connor loved watching the clip-clop Neigh-Neighs that go in and out for city tours. Plus we avoided the overpriced food in Bruges - they love to capitalize on their charm with mediocre food with high prices!
In addition to all the tasks and places we went with my Mom, we did have some of the best moments in our down time just chillin' at home and playing with Connor. Connor was lucky enough to receive TWO splendid hats for her birthday - lucky duck. She was very into both hats and wore them around inside the house for hours while just going about her business of playing! It cracked us up!
The watermelon hat had to come to dinner with us. And of course Minnie needed some Rice a Roni from the watermelon-hatted Connor!
And finally, Mom bought the golden waving "kitty cat" from the Asian store across the street. Connor was absolutely fascinated and captivated with the plastic cat. They waved at each other for hours on end. There was something hypnotic about it for Connor.
One day we tried to have hot chocolate at Whitamer Chocolate in Sablon but they weren't serving that particular day so we bought a few pieces of chocolate for take away. Then we tried to each lunch at a local restaurant but sat down with menus only to find out the kitchen didn't open til noon (it was 11:30 AM) so we bailed. It seemed the Belgian fates were working against us to get anything we went with the easy route and took Connor for a lunch at McD's! When all else fails, nothing hits the spot like a Happy Meal!And we also loved bee-bopping around as Brussels tourists. Both Mom and I wore borrowed lace mantilla veils on our wedding days. We loved staking those out in the local lace shops and seeing the beautiful Belgian lace.
The cats and the hats and the lace and even Bruges made for even more fun with Mom!