Friday, 28 June 2013

Loving Paris life

Our time in Paris is coming to an end. Boo hoo.  We have definitely found our mojo in the last couple of days. We were discussing yesterday at breakfast how a month here.....or six, would be great.  There are so many small back streets to explore.  Every arrondissement has a completely different feel and it is  just so incredible to get lost wondering the streets watching the stylish Parisians going about their day.

A trip to Disney Paris was a bit of a highlight for the kids (ahem, for the parents it's a 'nightmare').  There were a couple of rides we all totally enjoyed but on the whole there is way too much time spent queuing for rides....even when you do 'Fastpass'.  I would hate to see what this place is like in 'peek' season....something to be avoided at all costs, I imagine.  If you do go, I recommend the Start Tour motion simulator and the Big Thunder Mountain for a bit of a thrill.  I couldn't stop laughing through both rides. Pure terror and excitement!

We spent an afternoon at the Jardin D'Acclimation in Paris.  In my opinion I would skip Disneyland and take the kids here for something more authentically French.  If the sun is shinning it's the perfect place to take a picnic and spend a day.  There are deck chairs for the adults to kick back and fall asleep in.   Even if you don't want to pay for rides there is a flying fox and a ton of swings, plus loads of room to run wild.  If you like a fast ride be sure to steer clear of the steam train!

In true Parisian style the Eiffel Tower  was closed due to a 'Social Dispute' which was a bit of a bummer.   We had rebooked tickets online.  The conditions were perfect for a visit to the top of the tower.  Blue skies and no wind, something we have seen little of while here in Paris. We took a rather touristy cruise along the Siene instead which was a great way to get some perspective and keep the kids entertained while we sat down for an hour!

There was an amazing meal in St Germain consisting of soufflé for main & dessert.  I had a fish soufflé with chorizo and artichoke (sounds a little hideous but it was so good) to start and a incredibly rich & delicious chocolate soufflé for dessert.  Such a treat.  I took me back to my childhood.  My mum used to make incredible soufflés for weeknight dinners.

There was a visit to Musee d'Art Moderne to see the huge Robert Delauney's which was a highlight for me.  I love the work of both Robert and his wife Sonja
the Louvre...oh the Louvre...there's only so much time you can spend there with 3 kids and a thousand other people to navigate.  Our visit was somewhat short and sweet.  Mainly to prevent us being kicked out (there were skids along long corridors and inappropriate activities a-plenty);  
a night tour of the Eiffel Tower....once it reopened...two days later.  It really was magical by night ....aside from the queues inside the tower again!! (Paris what is with the queuing?.....Notre Dame also has insanely ridiculous queues); 
a girls shopping sojourn with Ange. I must admit it was a relief to hit the streets for an afternoon without the kids in tow; 
the gypsies who kept us entertained and on our toes!; 
the fantastic food market in the back alley way of the Marais Le Marche des Enfants Rouges this was one of those golden finds....completely by surprise; 
true hot chocolates at the Cafe Charlot
So much more but I'm running out of time.  We are leaving today for Berlin and I've promised Z a trip to the magic shop before we take off.  So I must fly.

Thanks to the Thomas family for a truly memorable time here in Paris.  Enjoy the rest of your trip guys  and see you back in Melbourne.....met milk!  xxxx

To read all of my Paris posts click here.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Oui Oui Paree

We arrived in Paris early yesterday morning after a 5am start from Brugge.  Everything about Paris has been easy. Our Airbnb host was waiting to greet us at the apartment on our arrival.  We marvelled at the position and the whole ambience of our new set up..... a total cliche, I know, but it is so Parisian.  There is even a separate bedroom for Z full of boys toys, as the room is usually inhabited by a 6 year old boy.   We dropped our bags and headed straight out to explore the local neighbourhood while the apartment was being cleaned.  We are staying in the 3rd arrondissement and have a full view of the Republique Statue from our 6th floor position (hooray, we have a lift!).  It's stunning and within walking distance to pretty much everything.... even for little legs.
The Thomas family arrived last night and it's been so good to catch up and for Z to have a few buddies to explore with.

So far we have:
  • Spent hours in the  Luxembourg Jardin.  It's a fantastic space for kids and an incredible public space set on over 20 hectares.  There are some impressive playgrounds, the sailing boats  are brilliant.   So simple and it's amazing to watch how much joy kids of all ages get from sailing them.  Then A & I took the wee lads to a Marionette show in the gardens while the big boys headed off to the closest Brasserie for a couple of beers.  We had no idea what was going on in the show but it was funny to us....even if we were laughing when nobody else seemed too be.
  • Made a visit to Shakespeare and Company.  Where we literally brushed bottoms with every other person squeezing through the tiny rooms of the book store.  You may remember it from this film?
  • Eaten an array on incredible crepes in the Latin Quarter... salted chocolate with ice-cream, sugar & lemon, Suzette......
  • Made notes off all the clothing stores we want to head back to after Wednesday when the Paris Sales start!  Timing hey.
  • Experienced a lively night in the Marais for the summer solstice, La fete de la Musique.  The music at the bar across the street kept us awake until well after 2am this morning (for anyone who ever came to stay with us in Sydney.....I almost thought I'd been transported back to Kings Cross!).
  • Cracked ourselves up using Face Juggler  while sitting in a beautiful courtyard, telling silly jokes.  
  • Heard numerous fart references, jokes and unspeakable sounds.  
  • Negotiated the tastes of 7 individuals at meal times.  
By evening we have been exhausted and totally crashed out on the couch.
Ready for.....tomorrow.  xx

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Brugge. To all who said '7 days is too long.' I now totally agree.

This aims in no way to be a complete guide to the sites of Brugge.  There were plenty of sites we chose to skip in this tourist mecca.  We did what worked for us.  Touring museums as a 5 year can get pretty darn boring so we took it slowly and enjoyed some of the more informal sites.

To-Do List:

  • Climb Belfort for an aerial view of Brugge.  Perfect to help get your bearings in this maze like town.
  • High on the list, Groeninge Museum which houses a fantastic collection of Flemish artists and a very meditative exhibit by French artist Fabienne Verdier 'Homage to the Flemish Painter'.
  • Minnewater, the Lake of Love, is a beautiful spot to sit and people watch.  Guys practising their tightrope walking, groups in hammocks, couples, frisbee throwers...& the tourists.
  • While you are down at Minnewater stop in at Sint-Janshospitaal one of the oldest preserved hospitals in Europe and check out Hans Memling's Shrine of St Ursula
  • Hiring bikes to not only get around Brugge but to get out of Brugge!  Head to Damme along the canal.
  • Quasimundo bike tour around Brugge.  Our entertaining guide, Jan, provided insight into some of the local culture.....the bricked in windows on many of the houses is due to the fact that they had to pay tax on the amount of windows in their houses, the more windows the more tax.   The very first European stock exchange, bourse, was established in Brugge around 1309 by an Italian family from Genova........etc etc 
  • Toyo Ito's controversial beehive like sculpture in the Burg.  Unfortunately, the moat no longer surrounds it as the water started leaking into the underground car park and had to be removed. The platform was also removed after a tractor(?) drove over it doing irreparable damage. Originally it was only intended to stay in it's position for the year 2002 when Brugge was the Cultural Capital of Europe.....however one imagines it will be staying on for quite some time now that Toyo Ito has landed The Pritzker!
  • The 1970's built Biekorf, main library, if you need to refresh your eyes with something a little more contemporary.  The beautiful light filled, spacious library is worth a visit. It really is a brilliant refuge.
  • The great playground towards the back of Astridpark.  There is a distinct lack of children playing in the streets of Brugge.  You can hear them behind high facades in their internal playgrounds or yards but you just can't see them.  It's a little eerie.
  • Morning coffee and Pain au chocolat on the communal table at Le Pain Quotidien
  • The Wednesday food & flower market in Markt Square 8am-1pm. Is full of great local produce and a bustling vibe.
  • A day trip (or even overnight trip) to Ghent.  A busy university town with a distinctly French feel.  It is no Unesco Heritage city  however the emerging architecture is, for the most part, beautifully incorporated in with the old and......refreshingly different!!
  • A visit to the Sound Factory at the Concertgebouw Brugge is a must!  We only discovered this on our last day and it was fantastic.  We all totally enjoyed the interactive installations, especially the Kilo Ohm and the OMNI.
I know everyone has their own favourites here in Brugge but here are a few of our food recommendations:
Breydel recommended by our bike tour operator for a restaurant the locals go to eat fish. It was a family friendly place close to De Garre!
Brasserie Raymond: serves Belgian-French cuisine....& yippeee bouillabaisse.
Ryad, Organic Moroccan & Indian.  We loved it.  The one guy does front of house rather impressively and his wife cooks upstairs.
Le Pain Quotidien a fantastic bio organic store dedicated to making hand made bread, incredible pastries and great coffee.
Real Belgium Fries at Chez Vincent.
The Chocolate Line: authentic Chocolate made in house with love.
Delpa Chocolatier as recommended by Beautifully Suddenly.
Sweertvaegher more chocolate goodness.

Beer lovers:
De Garre for a glass of their Garre 11% beer and the atmosphere of this tiny pub.
Bierbrasserie Cambrius for a glass of their house cherry beer.  I've never much been in to cherry beers before but this one is good.  They also do tasting plates of beer.
The oldest pub in Brugge, Cafe Vlissinghe. Established in 1515.
't Bruge Beertji a sweet little beer house in the back streets of Brugge who also serve up a satisfying nibbles plate with their select of over 300beers.

Online Guides:
Visit Bruges
Enchanted Bruges NY Times.
Tourist attractions for kids, Brugge.
Heritage walking tours

3 days....4 maximum is the perfect amount of time to spend in Brugge with kids.  There are only so many waffles, chocolates and friets a kid can take.
We have pushed this town to our limits.   We have had a great time.   Now we are SO ready to move on.  Paris here we come.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


We headed out of Brugge today and it was the best thing we could have done to restore our faith in the place.
I'm reserving my judgement on Brugge 'officially' until we leave. I can say here however I have not been wowed by the fairytale....and I feel slightly cheated, a little uncouth... and yes, guilty. I am unappreciative of the immense history under my nose.
Don't get me wrong  I have been here before, albeit 20 years ago, and I loved Brugge. Maybe there were fewer tourists back then? It was definitely pre 'In Brugges' and it was winter. Freezing, desolate and very charming.

Damme was...ok, I am dying to say it, damn good.  It felt like the south of France.  The service and attention to detail were something that is sadly lacking in Brugge (in my humble opinion).  The bike ride out there, only half an hour, was a tonic.  The track runs along a lush green canal lined with poplar trees.  It's completely flat!  My kind of riding and the sun shone.  We stopped in for  coffee and chocolate icrecream at Tante Marie, which I highly recommend and we also took a little look around the museum at St John's Hospital, which incidentally is on the market (see staircase above), set for redevelopment!  The people of Damme are hoping to encourage a younger community to settle there. From Damme we toured on to Oostkerke and then back to Brugge via Koolkerke.  The bike tracks are really well sign posted and it made me think touring Belgium by bike would be a fine idea (Don't laugh Dad)!


Monday, 17 June 2013

Brugge the land of beers, chocolate, friets & expanding waistlines.

Embracing the Flemish culture and all that goes with it..... beers, friets, & chocolate.  It would be sacrilegious not too now, wouldn't it? xx

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Amsterdam Airbnb success

We had our first Airbnb experience in Amsterdam and.... sigh, it was a huge success. The apartment was situated in Oost just off the Amstel River. It was 4 stops on the metro (a 50m walk from the apartment) to Central Station. This is just far enough away from the heavy traffic of tourists that flood the centres walkways, in my opinion. We mostly enjoyed walking home via the side streets and discovering some of the more local gems between the apartment and city centre. Our hosts (who lived in the downstairs apartment) were perfectly reliable and hospital without encroaching on our space. The apartment was so tastefully furnished, original artwork hung on the walls and there were flowers and basic provisions to greet us. I could have happily moved in for a month. There was something special about this apartment that made me happy to be there..... even the steep stairs leading up to the apartment added a sense of charm.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Park hopping in Amsterdam

Park hopping was how we rolled today.  Sarphatipark to Frederiks Plein via Hemonystraat and lastly Oosterpark.
Along the way we found the Albert Cuyp Market which reminded me us little of how the South Melbourne Market was back in the day (can I say.... bad fashion? with authentic fruiterers & fish mongers),  Poptasi Pastry for incredible macaroons (it definitely gets the Z man's vote), the fantastic store Hutspot...barber, concept store, fashion, gallery, cafe and yoga studio....uber cool in that Amsterdamian way... and Lobster House where they serve THE most amazing lobster burgers know to man (really)!!  We also came across some pretty impressive secondhand stores around the Oosterpark region, with room upon room of hidden treasures in every nook and cranny.  
Never having been to Amsterdam before the L.F. took himself off for a wander around the Red Light District while Z and I were at Oosterpark.  A sobering I was happy to forego! 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Quiet days

It was a quiet day exploring the back streets of Amsterdam today. We were all feeling a little weary.  Along the way I did however fall in love with the clothing label Like This and I found the perfect pair of grey  felted 'clog' slippers here.  xx

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Viking good time in Oslo.

It was hard to cull all of my photos from Oslo for this post. There were so many wonderful things about this city I'd love to share here but.... the above will suffice... for now.

We were invited to the most incredible lunch at A's sisters. They live in one of the most beautiful streets in Oslo. Aud cooked everything without onion or garlic for the L.F. and my, what a spread she put on. It was to die for. The food, the apartment and the hospitality! We were totally in love with everything about this place and the people. Thank you A & T for showing us the very best of Oslo it was definitely a highlight for us. An eight hour lunch, in an overwhelmingly beautiful 1880's apartment impeccably renovated (T is an architect who truly loves his work... Monday mornings are a dream for him).   We also took a meander to Vigeland Park ..... which was definitely needed to make room for the second round! Tussen tukk. xx

You can take a walk around the park here and check out what a driven man Gustav Vigelands must have been.  He certainly produced an impressive amount of work in a short time.

The L.F. took us on a hike across town to experience 'true' Norwegian cuisine at Schroders Restaurant. He was determined to experience a slice of Harry Hole's world after reading the Jo Nesbo series. Stodgy Norwegian nosh and beers were the go!  The Apple Cake was a highlight for Z & me.

The L.F. rode 90km's on a hybrid bike, along the scenic route form Saltnes to Oslo, with a 68 year old, 6 time Olympian.....he agreed to the challenge after a couple of wines and it's definitely an experience he wont forget in a hurry.  Needless to say he was very quiet the following day.  Exhausted.

We visited the Viking museum, met up with a friend I hadn't seen in 12 years who has gone from a NY banker to house husband monk (he's loving life in Olso and couldn't be happier), climded the impressive Opera House, wondered the streets and lusted after the houses & managed to walk away from a store full of Norwegian ceramics in Grunerlokka without purchasing any! It took great restraint. Our time was short and there was soooo much more we would have loved to have seen here.....but what we managed in the time we had was perfect.


PS. I neglected to mention that a rather rambunctious games of tiggy in Olaf Ryes Plass, the adventure playground at Vigeland Sculpture Park and many a running race were also highlights of our Olso adventure!


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