A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Stepping Back in Carcassone

semi-overcast 25 °C

We’ve left the glitz of Cannes and the razzmatazz of the Cotes d’Azure and stepped back in time to the city of Carcassonne in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Carcassonne is an ancient gem of a city with a maze of pedestrian friendly streets and squares overlooked by a magnificent medieval castle, But, for us, the real attraction is the Canal-du-midi – a narrow ribbon of 17th century waterway that meanders through the city and links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
We are guests, (a.k.a. midshipmen and galley slaves), aboard the good ship Carmen; a luxuriously outfitted twenty-five metre Dutch barge belonging to our friend, David.
Here she is …


Before we left the Cotes d’Azure, Jim had the opportunity to do something that he hasn’t done for decades – he got to make a birthday cake for his little boy; his son Ian, who is no longer little nor a boy. Ian is captain of an opulent yacht based in Cannes and Jim went aboard to create a cake that would epitomize the 1980s, (as requested by Ian).
Here’s Jim slaving over a hot stove in the galley…


And here’s the piece de resistance… a Rubik’s cube…


Now, back to Carcassonne and the region of Languedoc-Roussillon. This is the most southerly part of France so the markets and shops are already filled with the bounty of this year’s harvest. The cherries and strawberries are absolutely delicious, but all the produce here is grown for its flavor. Here is today’s haul from the market…


What will Jim make of all this fresh food? Stay tuned……..

PS Blog followers may be interested to read our Travellerspoint interview. You can check it out at:

Posted by Hawkson 05:27 Archived in France Comments (5)

Une Amuse Bouche

A little something to whet your appetite

sunny 26 °C

We are now on the Cotes d’Azure in Provence, looking out over the bay of Cannes. The sun shines from dawn to dusk, the sea and sky meld seamlessly into a wide blue horizon, and the golden sand beaches are already packed with sun-starved northerners getting an early jump on summer. Although we love the sun and sea we are really here for family, friends and for the food, and for the next few weeks as we travel around Provence and meander along the canal-du-midi in Languedoc-Roussillon we will bring you a culinary tour of southern France.
We will start here, in the Marche Provencal, in Antibes near Nice.


We’ve previously drooled over the French markets in our blogs, but we can never get enough of them. The variety of produce on offer is astounding. Imagine having seventeen varieties of potatoes to choose from….


…or fourteen different types of salad greens

Or eleven kinds of tomatoes; or hundreds of cheeses; or dozens of sausages. The list is almost endless and we wander around mesmerized by the quantity and quality of local foodstuffs on offer.

The markets close around midday, just in time for lunch. And on the Mediterranean coast the finest, and most popular, lunch is the simple moules frites, (mussels and chips). We met our friends, Colin and Jane, in Antibes’ historic market square and, for the price of a Canadian soup and sandwich, we each had a steaming heap of moules marinieres and a pile of crisp French fries.


But not everything here is inexpensive. We went to Monaco on Tuesday and checked out the lunch menu in the Café de Paris overlooking the Casino in Monte Carlo – Don’t ask!

Dinner is the highlight of every Frenchman’s day and although we’ve had some major disappointments in recent years, we’ve been treated to some excellent meals this time. Here’s Sunday’s menu…


And included in the price was a delicious amuse bouche of chestnut soup, together with homemade tapenade and delicate slices of Melba toast. Here is the main course of courgette flowers stuffed with cod…


The four course meal was topped off with fresh local strawberries and fromage frais – absolutely delicious – and just twenty five dollars including tax. A note to the British Columbian government which has just hiked taxes – the French government has dropped the tax on eating out in order to assist the ailing restaurant trade during the recession!

Posted by Hawkson 01:02 Archived in France Comments (3)

Reflections of Monte Carlo

sunny 26 °C

The building in this reflection has broken many hearts...


While some people visit Monte Carlo hoping to win a fortune at the Casino, we just came to see what all the fuss is about.
This is it - the famous casino that has broken so many people and made just a few immensely rich...


And this is the hotel next door...


The Hotel de Paris is the haunt of film stars, billionaires and big time villains. You need to be well healed to stay here. Even a modest lunch will set you back a hundred bucks each if you forego the almost obligatory bottle of bubbly. So, we are only here to see how the top 1% live. A yacht is absolutely de rigeur if you want to be taken seriously here. What about this little number?...


Of course if your budget is a little more modest you can always park out of sight on the backside of Monte Carlo. At least you have a good view of the Prince's palace on top of the cliff...


However, you are unlikely to get a royal invite through the backdoor. The best we could do was to get a quick peep through the Casino's back door..


We couldn't even get a foot in the door of our own bank when we wanted to use the ATM. Despite the logo on the door being the same as the one on our credit cards, the snooty doorman said, "We don't have ATMs here. This is a private bank." Oh well - we guess Monte Carlo doesn't need our cash.

Posted by Hawkson 15:13 Archived in Monaco Comments (0)

An English Country Garden

For Mary Jane and Tony

sunny 26 °C

We wonder if you remember the 60's song that begins ...
"How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
We'll tell you now of some that we know ..."

Here are some of the flowers we came across in one of England's finest country gardens - Stourhead in Wiltshire.
This is the flower of the handkerchief tree ...

The stately homes of England stand as a reminder of the golden age of the British Empire, and Stourhead House is a perfect example of the excesses of the aristocracy in the 1700s. Britain is still littered with monstrous castles, palaces and great country houses, that were, and in some cases still are, the rural pads of princes, dukes and earls. However, age, taxes, and the declining wealth of the landed gentry, have taken a toll on many of these mausoleums and a great many of them have ended up in the hands of The National Trust - a charity set up to preserve Britain's heritage.

Stourhead is such a place and, while it has a great house and a vast estate exceeding 2,500 acres, it is most famous for its Italianate garden designed by Henry Hoare, (known as Henry the Magnificent) in 1740.

Here is another view ...

These gardens, like most designed for England's baronial halls, were entirely artificial. Great swaths of countryside were molded by men with shovels into landscapes that mimicked the rolling hills of Tuscany; streams and springs were turned into lakes with dykes and dams; and exotic trees, flowers and shrubs were shipped in from around the world.
Here are some of the magnificent rhododendrons ....

To top off the illusion and fully transform this piece of England into Italy, Hoare scattered fine Palladian buildings throughout his garden. But, just to remind you of home, he tucked this whimsical little Tudor house into a leafy corner.

Posted by Hawkson 08:29 Archived in England Comments (2)

Friends Forever, Forever Friends

sunny 24 °C


As I grow older, it is very reassuring to know that thousands of miles away from my home in Canada are a group of friends in England I have known almost all my life. This week I had the pleasure of spending two delightful days with them at Geraldine’s home in Lewes, where we reminisced about our happy childhood in suburban London. It’s wonderful to catch up on their news: Maggie is off to Romania to stay with her daughter and Jenny is about to embark on a new career. Susan, my oldest friend, (not in age but in length of time), lived across the road and we started to play together when we were three. She brought a diary from 1964 and we laughed and giggled again like fifteen year olds as she read tales of lengthy Youth Club walks; of parents worrying; of dance parties; and of boyfriends and schoolgirl crushes. I have stayed in touch with these friends over the years and both Heather and Pam have visited me in Canada. We have been there for each through life’s pains and pleasures. The last time we all met up was 10 years ago when we were turning 50, but as we parted this time we have promised each other that we will not wait ten more years before we reunite.


Posted by Hawkson 00:46 Archived in England Comments (2)

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