Monday, March 19, 2012

France Day 8 of 18 - Albi, Carcassonne, Nimes

I did fail to mention that we stopped in Albi before heading over to Carcassonne on Day 7. One of our friends was actually from this town, so we thought we would swing by and see what it was like. Albi was a cute town with a carousel where we stopped and looked at a museum were Toulouse Lautrec had some of his paintings in an old Abby. I enjoyed the museum more than I thought I would.
Now on day 8, we headed to Carcassone which was a beautiful walled medieval city. I think Kevin Costner's Robin Hood was filmed there. If it wasn't, it should have been. Carcassonne, was somewhat touristy, but was fun to explore none the less. Check out the old and beautiful Hotel there. Very fitting for a medieval town, could not believe the prices! Maybe schedule a lunch in their exquisite medieval restaurant. We ate at a restaurant down the way where I thought I ordered duck and salad, but my basic French translation did not realize that it was actually duck gizzards! Whoops! My husbands insisted that I eat it any way not to offend the owners, but I was not in the mood, and I decided that I wanted to eat alot and what I wanted on my vacation, so I reordered. Note: Canard confit is not what I imagined either... it is duck preserved in its own fat...yet another reorder...Lesson learned... even if you think you know what something is... do some food research ahead of time just to be sure...

Then we were off to Nimes which was a pleasant surprise. Nimes is where they actually invented denim... which in French translates to " of Nimes" I thoroughly enjoyed Nimes. There was beautiful bull fighting area that looked beautiful lit up at night.
I also enjoyed looking at the roman temple there which was one of the best preserved I have seen and the Jardin de la fountaine (Roman water gardens). As you can see we are in a unique location with Spanish and Roman influences. The water gardens were absolutely beautiful. You walk over bridges and paths with water, ducks geese, and fish under neath you. The Romans showed here how they knew how to capture both architectural and natural beauty in one.

Phew what a full and beautiful day in Southern France!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Destination Idea - Arkansas

Arkansas?!? you say?
Actually, one day, we got a cheap weekend fare to Little Rock through specials and I thought the same thing...Arkansas?!? I do like to check things out myself and give things and people for that matter a shot. I just might like it, or at least know there will be something about a place or person that I will like. That is what adventure is all about. Looking for the nugget of fun. After going, man, what a relaxing, beautiful, fun place to go! I will always have a special place in for Arkansas in my heart.
We flew in early on a Saturday morning, and just checked out the cute town of Little Rock. We shopped at the little craft fair that is open on the weekends and checked out the cute, oldest part of town across the river. I even got to see the duck parade in the Peabody hotel - what a fun show!
We ended up staying in a gorgeous cabin on Lake Ouachita with a hot tub in the back! I will always remember the beautiful sunset over the lake surrounded by the woods.
The next day we shopped along the streets of Hot Springs and had a super hot, relaxing bath at one of the old bath houses from the natural springs in the area. I think that is when I knew I really like Arkansas! We even got to take a leisurely walk around the beautiful botanical gardens there (I snagged a peacock feather from one of the peacocks there that I use for table decorations), tried some good pork bbq, and checked out the smoky casino.
The next morning came early as we had booked a fishing trip with a superb guide on the lake. I absolutely love fishing, and even more...catching. I like fishing for a few reasons: so peaceful there on a calm lake; relaxing; can chat a bit with good company; you can just be in nature without being "in" nature; and if you get lucky you hook something and your adrenalin kicks in for a bit - plus I like to eat yummy fish. That trip snagged a nice sized big mouth bass, and we called it a day and flew home. Most places I say we have to come back, but seldom do because there are too many other places to see, but I know I will come back to Arkansas - my hot springs cool lake oasis.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Destination Idea - New Orleans, LA

Well this post is a bit late, considering Mardi Gras was well... 3 days ago.

Knowing now I like history/culture I will start off with some concerning Mardi Gras.
Based on their French roots, New Orleans is mainly Catholics, who celebrate Lent, 40 days to reflect on Jesus life while he was on this Earth. I think 40 days is in reference to Jesus being tempted in the desert (victorious of course). During this time, Catholics refrain from some item or thing they do which triggers them to reflect and find their strength on God and not themselves and resist temptation as Jesus did. 40 days before Easter is Mardi Gras which means "Fat Tuesday" in French. This is the day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins. So, back in the day (when ever that day was), the people would cook up all the fat they had and made sweets and had a party to eat up all the goodies that they had in preparation for Lent.

To what began as a religious holiday, now is what we all know as one of the biggest, craziest parties in the world. Cajuns definitely know their food and how to have some fun even if most have forgotten what the true meaning of Mardi Gras is unfortunately (after you see pictures or experience the festivites you will understand what I mean when I say forgotten its relgious roots). However, I absolutely love the intense and unique culture in New Orleans almost as muchas I enjoy their food. There is no place on the planet in either of these categories (and I have been to alot of places!). The first time I took my Yankee-bred husband there he said, " All we do here is eat, drink, sleep and repeat - I like it though." I had to explain to him that is life in New Orleans. The French truly believe only they live life the way it should be lived, and thier cousin Cajuns max it out for sure.

One of my favorite foods during this time is the King Cake. It is a breaded dessert sometimes filled with cinnamon, jellies, or pudding topped with sugar icing in the Madi Gras colors of purple, gold and green. These colors stand for the three gifts that the Kings gave King Jesus at his birth (Frank incense - signifying holy , gold - to give royalty, and myrrh - which is a burial spice foretelling Jesus death for us all). There is a little plastic baby, Jesus, that is put in the cake. Tradition is that if you end up getting the baby in your slice, you ahve to bring the king cake next year! I could go on and on about the food in New Orleans, but really you cant go wrong. I love gumbo (Cajun style not Creole style), crawfish etuffee, poorboy, bananas foster, catfish, bengiets, cherries jubilee, hurricanes and especially bread pudding! Some of my favorite restaurants are Bon Ton Cafe, 3 Sisters, Hotel Montelone rotating carousel bar, Cafe Du Monde, Mammas, I could go on and on...

Aside the awesome food, during Mardi Gras beautiful parades line the streets. Certain distinguished families have their own "crews" that have balls and then ride the parades. Upstairs in a great restaurant called Arnuad's, there is a free museum where a former owner kept all of her beautiful Mardi Gras gowns and invitations.

Other than food and floats, there are some great things to see for families as well. Check out the Autobahn zoo -(don't skip the swamp section where you will see some white alligators!), the garden district, Jackson square live performances and side walk artists, a ride on the trolley (very famous - almost as old as the San Fran I think), and the awesome aquarium.

Go for a weekend and check it out!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, January 16, 2012

France Day 7 of 18 - The Pyrenees

On our 7th day, we had a big drive a head of us.
Uncle Map likes beautiful landscapes and was determined to drive through the Pyrenees.
I think it took us about an hour and a half to dive "into" the Pyrenees after driving a while to get to them since you have to drive in and out and around the mountains. We passed cute little streams and some waterfalls as the greenery got thicker. I remembered it seeming so clean and not overgrown. We found a small parking lot where we were able to take a ski lift to a stopping point. At this level we walked around and took some fantastic pictures of the mountains around us and a waterfall. We then got brave and decided to take another ski lift and then hike a bit to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountain peaks. I was not sure if I wanted to go, but then I saw not only a two year old go up, but then a full sized dog get up on the ski lift! Little did I know that a heard of cows had been through the same walking path to lake, so we had to be careful where we stepped! Some French teenagers got brave or dumb depending on how you look at it, and decided to jump into the lake that was well... freezing...we heard some of them yell.
We then decided to head back to the car, to make sure that we had enough daylight to get out of the mountains and to our next hotel. Pretty big day for some non-outdoorsy folk!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

France Day 6 of 18 - Biarritz and Bayonne

Biarritz sits on the west coast of France and the views are nothing short of majestic. Seafood is very popular, and we decided to have dinner close enough to shore to hear the massive tide bring in the strong waves. Afterwards, we drove around the rocky shoreline and just watched the lighthouse reveal the beautiful ocean as we listened to the waves.

Biarritz is a beach town where the prominent, well off French go to vacation. We looked around the massive and rich Hotel du Palais which use to be where Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) built a palace on the beach. The beach is littered with families and and people sun tanning, surfing, and having a good time. Beware... the water is still cold!
Biarritz's casino was well.. pretty much a let down after seeing Monte Carlo and Vegas. Granted we went in during the day, but it was very unimpressive. We were, however able to go get some southwest authentic French food that was quite delicious. We ate some type of chicken and fried cheese dish in a restaurant that seemed to be run out of a home which was extremely popular. We were almost completely depending on my French at this time since we were practically the only Americans in the area. At places like these, most people (waitresses excetra don't speak English, and English menus are very rare).

Next we were off to Bayonne which is know for their chocolate. Well, I consider myself a bit of a chocolate connoisseur, so we found the oldest chocolate shop and found a table. I decided to order a chocolate and cinnamon drink, and Uncle Map ordered the basic chocolate drink. A few minutes later, our drinks arrived, mine in a little espresso looking glass with a full glass of water that came with it. I was somewhat disappointed as Uncle Map's drink was a full cup. Then I sipped mine....good grief!!! this was the most intense chocolate experience I have ever had! One sip and then I had to gulp down some water. Whoa!I was determined to try to finish my little espresso cup, but after about an hour, I finally gave up. Yes, this was the only chocolate that beat Aunt Venture.

The we decided to check out Saint Jean de Luz. This quaint fishing village was where Louis XIV, (the sun king which was very important to France and which you will hear about later in my blog) was married to the young girl at the time Maria-Teresa, of Spain in 1660 which tried to unite the countries. We visited the church where they were married and saw the wall that was built up over the door they left out of so that on one else could leave through those doors again. Most notable about this town was the extraordinary macaroons that I could not get enough of!