Checking back in the diaries I see that it is two years since we last came to la bourboule. I remember now we were too creamcrackered after a round trip to the UK and la Suisse in early February to want to get on the road again.

But we were ready now. Not an early start as it is only a couple of hours drive away and the hotel check in wasn’t open until three. So a unhurried departure around eleven. Usually a quiet A89 autoroute so we were surprised to find the aire we chose for the coffee stop to be chokker. We followed two other cars through all the parking areas before giving up and leaving – caffeine deficiency looming!

At la bourboule we were too early even for the tourist office (2pm opening) so carried on to the lac de guery, a new place I had found online as a possible walking destination. The drive up was forested and twisty with a deepening valley on our left. Suddenly there was the lake, small and in the top of an ancient volcanic plug. No immediate space to park but soon we were at the col de guery where a large and fairly full car park materialised on our left.

We munched our sandwiches and then explored the ‘point de vue’ we could see – breathtaking. The twin peaks of Tuiliere And Sanadoire then off to the building further down. Toilets? Coffee? We found both in a log cabin that offered all the usual information and renting opportunities plus husky sledging rides –  sad that there is no snow.


Back down to la bourboule where I finally found the tourist office for a brochure of summer (sic) walks. I took the map of the raquettes and ski de fond pistes as the girl said we could walk in those too. Still too early for the hotel we sat in a sunny terrace of a cafe so Lou could have his arrival beer at last while I tucked into a crepe, a mountain must.


Finally booked in I was pleased we had a sunny room with a view of bourboule and the mountains beyond. I overheard the receptionist telling the people before us that they would need to ring restaurants ahead to get a table. Happily we  had taken the precaution of booking ours for tonight and tomorrow. So we lazed away the rest of the afternoon in front of the rugby and had to leave a very exciting match (France and Wales) to get to the Cyrano, a favourite, where one of the waiters kept us updated on the score!


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To raquette or not to raquette?

IMG_20200219_163313_767Looking back on the blog I don’t seem to have written about our tradition of raquette walking on Lou’s birthday recently.  However, a couple of years ago we decided maybe it was time to hang up the raquettes and just walk as we were exhausted after a couple of hours. But as his birthday approached last year Lou suddenly decided he quite fancied a mountain trip. Too late, I told him, everywhere books up very quickly. So we decided just to go up and walk a bit as la bourboule is only a couple of hours away and we knew the ‘pistes’. I found a hotel room in quite a quirky hotel and it turned out to be a good break. This year he has done it again! ‘No’ all through January and then ‘oh, let’s give it one more go’.

So our preferred hotel was booked (covered garage; good for putting on the chains and a tiny pool, great for unwinding after the trudging) and plans made. Then a complete lack of snow anywhere. Himself started talking of cancelling but optimistic me persuaded him we could find some green paths to walk and promptly began exploring possibilities with the help of the internet. So we are due to leave on Saturday. There was light snow, last Wednesday but the webcam shows it melting away. Never mind, it will be a break after being stuck in all through a wet January and the restaurants are good in the town…!

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montpellier mooch march 2019


Ever since spending my 70th birthday in Barcelona I have developed a taste for a city break to celebrate subsequent milestones. It used to be that we went away to do raquette walking for Lou’s birthday in February but last year we decided the time had come to hang up our raquettes as we were no longer coping with the effort required. We have given it fifteen years and visited some lovely place in the Pyrenees, Jura and Auvergne whilst staying in some quaint hotels but now time for something more restful. And a city break means shopping and March is warmer than February if we disregard last spring’s beast from the east.

We have driven south several times on the A75 when visiting places further on and have often said as we bypass Montpellier that we ought to visit it one day. That day had come. Comme d’hab it was only to be a two night break as that is the length of time we feel the cats can cope without us and a babysitter! I found and booked an ibis near the centre with parking and a restaurant to make life as simple as possible. Then changed the dates as on Monday, the birthday, most places were shut.

The drive down was pretty gloomy especially as we crossed the Millau viaduct with piled up storm clouds creating very atmospheric photo opportunities.



By the time we reached the hotel the sun was back out and it was appreciably warmer.
Our room was a shock and the reason for the lower price than other hotels close by revealed. The bathroom was behind a curtain. This included the toilet so an unexpected level of intimacy. Reading reviews I noticed it was often mentioned. but the full import had clearly escaped me!

With time before dinner we went off to explore the nearby shopping mall and found lots of places in which to lose ourselves for an hour or so. I had hunted for restaurants in walking distance but neither of us found the menus particularly inspiring. A nearby brasserie seemed to rely on a ‘frites with everything’ approach.  We decided on a drink in the hotel bar and studied their menu while chatting to the helpful barman.  So my birthday dinner was in the hotel restaurant.  We kicked off with oysters (Lou) and foie gras (me) and a good local white wine. Happy birthday to me


Tuesday 19th March

Breakfast in the buffet with sunshine streaming through the windows and an open door to the terrace outside. We could see the trees moving so knew there was a wind. Hopefully not as cold as last year’s in Amsterdam. As the researcher in chief when we visit anywhere (just curious, I say; nosey, he says) I had rejected the idea of the musee Fabre however celebrated it is.  For another time I decided. Meanwhile there was the old town to explore which was just a few minutes walk away on the other side of the Place de la Comedie, a huge concourse busy with market stalls, students and shoppers, and colourful trams coming and going along one side (Lou was to become very impressed with the frequency with which they came and went).  We stopped by the nearby tourist office to ask for a town plan.  I love a tourist office!  Once in the old town the roads narrowed and started to climb. We came to a pretty place filled with trees, Place Jean Jaures, of course!


From there we followed our noses and the map to find the Musee de Vieux Montpellier,  a bit tricky but we got there.

The musee is on the first floor of an incredibly ancient and beautiful building, the Hotel de Varennes.




The musee itself is only four rooms and a corridor! I had hoped to gain some idea of the city and its origins and thankfully there were some old drawings and plans that showed the old town surrounded by its walls once upon a time.  We crept around switching lights on and off with due reverence.  It really is an odd little place but the young woman in charge left us alone to explore such as we could. From there we nosed our way back to the main road climbing through the old town passing the huge prefecture on the way.  When Midi-Pyrennes was combined with Languedoc-Rousillon Montpellier was up against Toulouse as the city to be home to the new regional prefecture. Toulouse won that one.

We continued uphill towards the Arc de Triomphe sparkling in the sunshine.



Beyond it lay the Place Royale de Peyrou. at the far end is the Chateau d’Eau, a fancy watertower.  We were very surprised at how high this point of Montpellier is with its extensive views and is probably why the town was founded on this impressive promontory.  It was pretty windy and we decided against battling across to take in the chateau d’eau.  Instead we turned downhill to find an alleyway towards the cathedrale Saint Pierre.  Turning a corner I was gobsmacked by the enormity of the portico of the cathedral despite it being still several metres away.



Up close it was a real statement with its two conical spires dwarfing the doors.  The open entrance was around the corner as they so often are.  Inside the space was light and airy with lots of beautiful stained glass windows and, my particular favourite, two stunning rose windows.   I bought a leaflet in English from two gossiping elderly ladies in a kiosk and discovered the windows were of the Apostles on the east side and the Prophets on the west side.


Across the street on the wall of an alleyway I spotted a graffiti leopard. No idea of its significance if any but it ended up on my Instafeed, bien sur!  We were ready for a coffee by now so it was back to the Halle we had passed earlier near place Jean Jaures to sit and watch the world on its lunchbreak pass by.  Walking there i spotted big bunches of mimosa for sale, a glorious splash of yellow glowing in the sunshine.








Back at Place de la Comedie we debated where to go for lunch.  Somewhere selling a choice of salads was what we were after but such places seemed thin on the ground. Then we remembered there were a couple of places in the shopping mall so back we went to try there. A mock terrace surrounded by passersby where we chose ceaser salad which came with four huge chips on top, the weirdest and largest ceasar salad we have ever had!  After that and the wine we enjoyed with it.  It was time for Lou to rest his eyelids and I wasn’t averse to a little nap either.

When researching things to do in Montpellier I was pleased to find a photographic exhibition held in the Pavillon Populaire which is a building in the gardens, Jardins de Champs de Mars, next to the Place de la Comedie.  We were really enjoying the closeness of things to the centre!  The exhibition was of photos taken by Andy Summers of the rock group, The Police.  Due to the possibility of trouble due to a march by the CGT, the place was full of CRS and, oh joy, two police cars parked in front of the Pavillon underneath the banner announcing Andy Summers’ exhibition!

The exhibition was much better than I has expected with some beautiful images mixed up with small off the cuff shots and a video film documenting the slow disintegration of the group and their mutual antagonism.  However, the show was positive and fascinating and we spent a long time in there.  Afterwards it was time for an apero in the place once we could find some empty seats.  The place was full of families, joggers, people hurrying home from work, skateboarders, cyclists and a clown setting up his balloon modelling stall! I asked the waiter if it was always this busy on a Tuesday in March.  Everyone has come out in the sunshine he told me.








As we sat enjoying the ambience and while Lou did a bit of tram watching, I told him about the reading I had done while he was resting his eyelids.  The tourist office map had lots of incidental information about the town including the quirky trompe d’oeil on the place in front of the church of Saint Roch.  So off we went to find it.  On the way there were some examples of street art plus some unintended, I love the collages of old and new events posters.








The trompe d’oeil was brilliant, encompassing the whole façade of a large house front.  Pictures were taken, the church was visited and then we wandered up around the back of the church past its tiny garden busy with mums and children and into more alleyways full of one off shops.  Montpellier is GREAT for shops!  Still full from the lunchtime salads, we decided we only wanted a small dinner and had done enough walking for one day.  So back to the hotel restaurant (I knew it was a good idea when choosing hotels) where we had an entrée and a pudding which was just right!

On our way out of Montpellier in the morning we drove via the river, Le Lez, which was advertised as an interesting place to walk. I wasn’t very impressed as the river had concrete banks which I always think is sad despite the grass above and the many trees. But it didn’t spoil Montpellier for us.  A city with a lovely ambience and one we would like to return to one day…and next time I’ll visit the musee Fabre as I have since discovered it has a collection of Coret’s, a favourite painter.





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amboise or bust

during may and june we look for a weather window of opportunity for a short camping trip as we are fair weather campers, bien sur!  last year it was the cevennes and the year before trebes on the canal du midi.  the bizarre weather of hot days alternating with storms and rain meant it was almost the end of june before we found three suitable days.   i had seen a programme on french tv a few years ago about the clos luce at amboise, the last home of leonardo da vinci, courtesy of an invitation from the french king francoise 1.  after some years of decline the house had been restored and a museum created dedicated to the work and creativity of da vinci.  the thing that fascinated me was the idea of the recreated models both within the house and out in the grounds.   we had discussed campsites and, under the impression that neither of us fancied the centre ville campsite (previous experience has taught us they can be noisy at night) i searched for somewhere just outside the town.  i found a small site right next to the river about fifteen minutes away near a village called mosnes.  as it was small and we were getting close to french school holidays i booked us in after checking it out on google earth and trip advisor and hoped it wasn’t a mistake.:)


first there was the task of finding everything squirrelled away in the loft and workshop.  i tried to ‘lose’ some things not strictly necessary but only managed two folding stools, the washing line with pegs and a garlic press, more of that later!  the cats began to get jumpy as soon as they saw the food and water hoppers being filled up.  as it was summer and they virtually leave home at this time of year we decided they would be fine for a couple of nights even if  ‘howler’, a cat who has adopted us, dines well on the available catfood.

a familiar journey up to chateauroux and then onto the route national to amboise ignoring the gps which tried to take us off onto little yellow roads for most of the way.  the campsite was signposted by a narrow left turn in the centre of mosnes,  down a country lane and a turn to the left in view of the loire and we had arrived.  a cheerful welcome from the couple who run the place and a pitch with lots of shade.  then the ‘fun’ of erecting the tent in the full knowledge that the couple opposite had the same one and were probably watching us surreptitiously.  an hour later the tent was up and lou was looking for his ‘arrival’  beer.  oops, guess who didn’t move it from the fridge to the glacier?  mind you, i insisted it wasn’t my job!  happily the reception of the campsite doubles as a bar with beer on tap so lou was placated.



the ‘sanitaires’ were spotless and even provided loo paper, a rare treat as campsites go.  we wanderd over to the riverside and sat awhile on a bench watching two dogs frolicking in the shallows and a couple who, equipped with enormous flippers, swam away up stream pushing said flippers. rather a pointless and splashy activity we decided.


to my delight (it was a holiday after all) we discovered the campsite couple cooked fried food in the evening so chips were ordered.  we ate them with a tin of spag bol washed down with glanes rose (i remembered to put that in, lou noted) and bought magnum choc ices to follow.  as usual we watched with interest as various camper vans came in, noting we were all ‘of a certain age’.  as hoped the site was quiet and we slept well.

next morning the showers passed muster (clean, hot and decent water pressure) but i was caught out when lou asked for some pegs to hang up his damp towel. i ended up snapping some small pegs from the tiny teatowel airer!  After receiving lots of parking advice and maps from our friendly host we were off to amboise.  the parking advice proved useless as we couldn’t work out which left turn to take (it was the one way before town we discovered later)  so we turned into the narrow streets and luckily stumbled upon a free car park.  a sign pointed us towards the clos luce and after a short walk uphill we found it.



i had bought our tickets online in advance so we wafted in and were directed to the entrance which is at the base of a tower and then you climb up a very narrow spiral staircase.   you arrive on the gallery from which one trip advisor reviewer said he looked at the gardens but didn’t bother to explore them.  his loss, i would suggest, given our experience of them.  first there was the house to explore; two bedrooms, a chapel, leonardo’s studio, his study and the refectory.  we moved fairly swiftly to avoid the school group hard on our heels





then it was downstairs to the rooms given over to the models and plans.  we wandered and read and marvelled.  arriving together in front of the tank, we both agreed we had not realised the breadth of his invention.  swing bridges, a car (!) and a paddle steamer were wonderful and well displayed with videos available to help with visualisation.


quite thirsty by now and having noticeed a very pretty rose garden below the refectory window we went in search of coffee.


by the time we had finished our coffees we realised it was nearly midday, french lunch time.  watching the crowd numbers building up we opted to stay put and have lunch.  seated at a shady table in a little bay edged with red roses we enjoyed salads of the region and some cool pink wine.


it was hard to leave our little ‘coin’ but the garden beckoned.  it is full of shady trees so it was very pleasant to wander up and down the paths (trying to follow the map) discovering the various enormous models.



among them there was a swing bridge, paddle boats, some sort of water lifting thingamybob and even a flying machine in the trees above our heads makng me think of a pterodactyl.


after all that gawping and retracing footsteps we were beginning to flag.  we decided we had given it our best shot and learnt a lot in the process.  time to move on.  outside the exit we found one of those little wooden ‘trains’ so popular in tourist towns.  after a chat with the driver during which i thought he said there was a stop in town we climbed on.  off we rattled with an english commentary.

in town we stopped very briefly for a red light and then turned for the river.  at a set of traffic lights on the bridge we jumped off before we were taken miles away.  lou said maybe that was what we were meant to do at the last set of lights…


not sure where exactly we had parked the car it was a case of retracing the route we remembered from the morning.  we looked up at the enormous chateau walls and lou waited while i dived into interesting shops.



the car was found and it was lovely to return to our shady site by the river.  we ordered fish and chips and sat drinking aperos on the little terrace where a world cup footbal match was about to start.  sadly we were not in the shade so we apologised and retired to the tent and our lovely cool corner.  the fish and chips were very good when it arrived as was the bottle of local rose we had bought at the bar.


another peaceful night and then the task of packing up the tent.  we had giggled watchng the neighbours with the same model of tent packing theirs away the morning before.  the husband insisted on folding and refolding one of the ground sheets and the wife went round and round the outside of the tent sweeping the fabric with a small brush.


‘don’t wait for me to do that’ i told lou.  although we haven’t used the tent that often we are fairly good at remembering where everything goes back into the car and top box.   lou always has his melodramtic moment telling me the tent won’t fit into its bag but with some sitting on it and squishing it by me it always goes in as do the sleeping bags! 🙂


a couple of cold drinks before the ‘depart’ on the terrace and we were off.

‘it was good’ said lou.   praise indeed,  and true…





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After Amsterdam

Back from holiday we were plunged into ‘real life’ again so a pause in the blog. We enjoyed Amsterdam but made some observations about life there. The first thing I noticed on the drive north was the lack of signs saying we had crossed into Belgium and later, Holland. Coming home we saw them, maybe the signs were blocked by lorries? It did make us a bit disoriented but thankful that we can drive straight through. Long may it last even if it is a security nightmare in these troubled times.

Talking of security Lou was bothered by the number of scooter and moped riders without helmets. They whizzed around the streets of Amsterdam, dodging trams, tourists and cyclists with what seemed to us reckless abandon of their own safety. Something to Google!

Friends spoke of tulips and windmills but we didn’t see fields of flowers studded with windmills. I saw and captured on my phone one windmill beside the autoroute going and another coming home. Apart from the myriad offerings in the tourist tat shops, that was it.


As for tulips I spotted the occasional one in shop windows or in the baskets on a couple of bicycles but that was all. However. I did appreciate the large glass vases seen in a gallery and a couple of cafes filled with tall fresh flowers with a token tulip in each. I imagine the cold spring must have delayed things. Mind you, Lidl had bunches last Friday when I dashed in.


As we wandered about the place the smell of ‘herbal tobacco’ constantly assailed you. Lou said he didn’t notice but I have a keener nose. It reminded me of meandering along the river bank at Toulouse one sunny afternoon amongst the student population! 🙂


There were bicycles parked everywhere and I was amused by a statistic I read that said at any one time there are 30,000 bicycles at the bottom of the canals and thousands more on land. My guide book suggested hiring one to experience the city as the natives do. No way would I attempt it! The trams and cyclists speed around seeming to know instinctively when one of the others is about to bear down on them. Plus there seems to be a one way system around the canals, up one side and down the other. Add that to not quite knowing where you are……terrifying!


Talking of canals, which is hard to avoid when discussing the Venise of the north, while on our canal cruise we were told a house we were passing was the old sluice house that once filtered the water of the canal and that each year there is a festival when people swim in them.


Looking into the murky water not far below us on a bitterly cold evening it seeemd the height of folly.  Even the queen has swum in the canal we were triumphantly told. I’ve googled, of course, and she did swim in the canals as part of a charity event in 2012, when the city authorities pumped cleam water in to the particular canals used.  i still don’t fancy it!

Cheese features on many menus, ‘Old Amsterdam’ seeming the favourite. Whisper it quietly but I am not a fan of Dutch cheese so didn’t succumb to temptation either in a restaurant or in one of the many shops offering huge circular slabs of the stuff. They made good photos though. 🙂


I mentioned the young people thronging the Moco gallery. That would please its founders. I’ve discovered (good old Google) that they are a couple who deal in art through their gallery and opened Moco as a way to bring art to a younger audience. From what we experienced at the cold start of the tourist season they have succeeded.

And lastly, the waiting staff everywhere. In the cafes and restaurants and our hotel we were treated with what came over as genuine care and interest and not forgetting the guides in the various museums. Information was shared and suggestions made in a friendly way which always enhanced the experience. It helped wipe away the bad feeling after the rudeness of the boat booth man!

Lou tends to operate on a ‘been there, done that’ attitude to visiting places but I wouldn’t mind going to Amsterdam again but when the east wind isn’t blowing!



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‘home James!’

Up early in a gloriously sunny morning…but cold.  Breakfast in a quiet dining room before checking out. Suitcases in the car plus balloons and bottle of red wine, bien sur.

We were facing the journey south with some trepidation remembering the traffic jams around Antwerp and Breda but despite it being Monday morning we sailed through both places. Traffic was heavy on the north bound carriage way and at a standstill for a long way after Antwerp but we were fine.


Our usual style of journey, coffee stop then a lunch stop followed by a long spell through Paris and out to Orleans. There was snow on the fields and trees as we approached Paris but it soon disappeared as we left the city behind. A quick stop for gasole at Salbris and on to vierzon, our stop for the night.


As we settled into our room a message from the family came through and we had an impromptu video chat with our grandson. He is really beginning to form what sound like words and he delivers them in such a way that you know he knows what he means! Adorable and just what we needed after a long day ‘in the saddle’.

Off to the local gruffalo bill for dinner and the prospect of a ‘short’ drive home tomorrow. Nightie night


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A smashing time?

Birthdays. How they come around before you have time to get used to the last one. Age that is. I never get tired of a little birthday spoiling!

When I decided Amsterdam would be an interesting birthday venue I got googling and picked out which attractions I would like to visit and which ones to add on to placate the other half who finds museums and galleries hard going. Lists were drawn up, routes plotted, timings anticipated and likely lunch spots noted. Then the ticket buying online to complete the master plan. The other half always tells people he’s ”just the driver’. Personally I think he prefers it that way, less hassle and he can always blame me when it goes awry.

But it didn’t, so long as you don’t count my phone crashing onto the cobbled patio at the second museum, its face now resembling a drunken spider’s web.


It had been bitterly cold as we walked to the bus stop. I had my scarf up over my nose as my face was in pain from the cutting wind. Happily a bus came as we arrived at the stop so into the warm without hanging about. At central station we hopped off, checking out our tickets like old hands and walked over the canal to find the tram. A tour group were already loading onto ”our’ boat. At nine in the morning, poor things. The boat hadn’t been that warm the other night.


The tram took us to museumplein where the rijksmuseum loomed at me, reminding me I had voted not to visit, well, not this trip. My printouts worked their magic at the van gogh and we were into the warm again. We were early but that seemed not to matter so we were soon dodging around people glued to their audio guides washed up in shoals in front of certain paintings.


We worked our way up all three floors and I learnt several new things about Vincent. Also, that the museum doesn’t seem to own many of his most famous works. Private collections, Lou suggested. Or scattered around the world’s bigger museums?

After that it was lovely to sit in the museum cafe over a capuccino, bathed in bright sunshine and reading birthday messages from the family.

Van Gogh ticked off and coats collected from the cloakroom, we layered up again to face the glacial winds. The next gallery, the Moco, is very nearby and was quickly reached.


An old house with a maze of rooms which were busy with a very different demographic from that in Van Gogh.


Younger and northern European. Maybe Banksy’s irony only works if you understand British humour?


Roy Lichtenstein was in the basement and the poor relation in terms of visitors. He was always an acquired taste; maybe but colourful!


(i am happy with my watch…this birthday!)

Leaving there via the cobbled patio it was as i tried to organise myself into my layers that the phone went tumbling. Bum! Muttering to my foolish self we walked towards the voldenpark as a seafood restaurant i had googled and noted was in that general direction. Turning a corner I noticed Prada and then Louis Vuitton, then other purveyors of expensive goods.



The Bond Street of Amsterdam we wondered? Turning into the next road towards the park but with no clear idea where the restaurant might be we were delighted to find ourselves in front of it. And they had a table free. Up on high stools but no matter.


The menu had us salivating but cold fruits de mer was not what we wanted on this cold day. So we decided on the two person platter called the ‘mixed grill’, a cornucopia of fish and shellfish. We passed on chips and shared a very good salad bowl. White wine from Sicily and I was loving the whole experience, even the bibs we agreed to wear. Memories of eating boullabaise in Marseille similarly attired!


It was an effort to make ourselves leave and face the cold again but we did. This time it was to go back the way we had come and investigate the stalls that were being set up when we first arrived this morning. It appeared to be a craft fair and I was told it happens once a month. There were some pretty things but nothing I couldn’t live without.

We had some debate about how to reach the foam photography museum but thought we were headed in the right direction. We were surprised to see about eight mounted policemen ride by but then noticed a protest march passing the end of the street. We couldn’t see or hear much but a lot of police vans were following them and later we saw what Lou said was a van with water cannons on top. Maybe it will be in the news?


We got ourselves thoroughly lost and still don’t know where we walked. We spotted a tram going to central station so follow that tram!!




At the next tram stop there was a map and the canal we wanted not too far away. First some roadworks to negotiate (happening everywhere it seems) and trudged towards our goal.


A canalside house again with a mixture of old and modern features. The Jacob riis exhibition was fascinating but the more recent work left me confused. Photography being used in an abstract context just leaves me floundering.


As at the Huis Marseille we twisted and turned up and down staircases and into tiny rooms glimpsing the secret gardens behind the houses.  but here theer were many modern design touches.


Having exhausted the photos and ourselves it was back down to the coats in the basement locker and out to find the tram ‘home’. Unlike last night we managed to get off the 22 bus at the right stop so were able to walk back with the wind behind us rather than battling through a windy tunnel.


as we walked from the tram to our bus the station was illuminated by the evening sun and positively glowed!


Boots off and kettle on there was a tap at the door. Our cheerful waiter from the brasserie was outside bearing balloons, a birthday card, sweets, a bottle of red wine and two glasses…for my birthday!





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Arctic but a little sunshine

A busy breakfast room this morning, clearly everyone was putting off going out into the biting wind. But it had to be done. We trekked off to the bus stop (roadworks outside the hotel means the nearest bus stop is out of action) and one came along very quickly. I love the automatic clock that tells you when the next bus will arrive….and they do!

Our first task of the day was to go back to the transport office in the station to get our bus tickets. 25 euros bought us two 48 hour passes for bus, tram and metro.



Back down Damrak to C and A for Lou to do a bit of shopping. He didn’t, in the end, but did have a successful foray into the Swatch shop. New strap fitted on his old watch and a free battery. I got a birthday present too!

Then the exploring began. A few twists and turns and we found the Begijnhof, a quiet grassy square surrounded by lovely old buildings with a church in the middle. I offered to take a photo of three french girls but it was unsuccessful. The camera was a very old poloroid and twice refused to spit out the photos I took. ”you broke it’ Lou told me as we left. I do hope not.


From there we wandered around taking photos and avoiding bicycles and trams. The sun was trying to shine which cheered things up but had no warmth in it, sadly. We tried to spot which canals we had cruised the night before but it was not easy.



I’d googled loads about Amsterdam so had a lunch venue in mind. After some map consulting and a lot of instinctive guesswork, the cafe was found. Google hadn’t been wrong and we enjoyed our lunch, especially being in the warm.


Bracing ourselves, we set out to discover the area known as jordaan, celebrated for its quirky boutiques and cafes. The canals became prettier I felt as we walked westward, still dodging cyclists. A young couple asked me to take their photo and this time it was successful, phew!


We passed Anne Frank’s house, the cheese and the tulip museums and lost ourselves in the alleys.


We found trees in tubs outside front doors and garden benches chained to house walls. Every so often we turned a corner and were buffeted by that dreadfully cold wind. Time to get inside again.



I had bought tickets online for the Huis Marseille photo museum so, after a bit of canal confusion, we found the right one and after a few minutes walk were back inside in the warm again.


No problems with my printouts this time and no need to prove we were over 65 and entitled to our discount. We must look very old. In the bus last night, a young couple got up and gave us their seats!


The museum is in a beautiful canalside house with magnificent ceilings and a secret garden behind it. I sneaked photos of it and its neighbours.


We climbed up and down exceedingly steep staircases to reach the maze of rooms. The stairs in our modern hotel are steep and not very deep, is it an Amsterdam thing?


After that the last thing I hoped we’d see was the floating flower market. Oh, what a disappointment. I had romantically imagined a market full of glorious sights and perfumes bobbing on the canal. Wrong. Stall after stall full of tourist tat, admittedly with endless bags of bulbs but not the market if my imagination. I toyed with buying a ”delft blue’ pot with lid but told myself I didn’t need it so put it back.


A shop window of ‘decent’ delft that was NOT in the floating flower market!

Eager to leave the ugly place we spotted a tram going to the central station so managed to catch it just in time. Our new tickets made a satisfying ding ding as we waved waved them at the machine for the purpose.


And so back to our fourth floor nest, a nice cup of tea and the end of the Milan San Remo cycle race. Now it’s the final match of the six nations. Well, we are old and need our rest!




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Icy blasts

When we left Lille the sun was shining but as we approached Ghent (gand) the sun was disappearing into the mist and the road becoming damp. We had always thought of the A1 through northern France to be full of lorries but it has nothing on the roads north to Antwerpen and Breda. The further we drove the more container lorries we passed. Scary stuff. Awful jams around Antwerp and Breda. We’re even contemplating a different route home.

It was a great relief to find the hotel and be able to check in early. A very jolly room confirming the arty vibe they publicise and a ground floor brasserie with comfy chairs and good beers. A lot of Brits and, tonight, a hen party!



So lunch and then we trekked through the roadworks to the nearest functioning bus stop. Arriving at the central station we sought out the cruise office. The young man told me we could go straight to the boat.  But at the boat pier an officious man shouted at me that I had to change my printout for tickets by going to the cruise office ten minutes walk away. I pointed out, calmly at first, that that wasn’t necessary as I had the printout. I pointed to the sentence that said as much. But he insisted. We tried anyway with the guy by the gangway and the same response. By now I was losing it. I was cold and wanted to get out of the wind, preferably onto a nice warm boat! But nothing doing. I grabbed the paper back and said I’d get a refund and forget the whole thing (boy, was I in a strop!).

I stomped into the station with Lou following and down to the warm shopping mall underneath. Here we bought warm hats, having not thought to bring any with us, and discovered shops here put a charge on the use of bank cards. Bit of a cheek as ours are debit cards not credit ones.


But onwards. The Delft shop i had found online turned out to be very tourist tat and as I tried on a bracelet (present for someone) the wretched thing fell apart. Oh, the shame of it, but oh, how lucky I didn’t buy it and present it as a gift! Lots of apologies and I bought some overpriced earrings and scurried out.

Lou suggested we had a little wander and we headed down Damrak, a big wide street built over a canal many years ago. It occurred to me we were close to the ticket office I had been told to go to so in I marched to claim a refund. That wasn’t possible immediately i was told. At this point Lou decided to play mediator and suggested I swap my now pretty scruffy printout for tickets and we take the cruise as planned. So I did. And we did. I looked the other way as we queued up and boarded the boat so didn’t have to face the obnoxious jobsworth (he had been unnecessarily rude to me while I was sooo calm… not). Some cheerful Dutch chaps sat next to us and we all plugged ourselves into the audio sockets.


A trip around the harbour, truly, kicked off the cruise and then it was all canals. Photos taken through a spray spattered window while I imagined how it would all look under blue skies and with leaves on the trees. I was glad Lou had prevailed!



Off the boat and off to try to buy bus tickets. Unsuccessful as the counter in the ticket office had closed and the machines had ‘tomber en panne’ but in Dutch.  So off down Damrak again in search of coffee and waffles.


Then a mooch around C and A, as you do, and the red light district before a bus back to the hotel.

A good meal in the brasserie to round off the day.

Cream crackered!



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Into every life a little rain must fall…

Today we had bucket loads of the wet stuff. At times visibility was frighteningly poor. A dash into an aire for coffee cheered us up a bit but the rain still lashed out of the sky. The discomfort was compounded by a windscreen wiper that erratically thwacked the screen, making us jump and frightened it would fling itself into the murk and leave us sightless.

However, by Chateroux the sky was considerably brighter with even some sunshine now and then. The view behind us of banked black cloud must have terrified the oncoming drivers.

The traditional peacock ‘on the move’ lunch, home made ham sarnies, with a shared bag of crisps and twix, was eaten at Salbris and we headed for Paris. The gps decided to take us right up to the peripherique but then got confused by all the tunnels. We stopped listening and followed the signs for the airport, Charles de Gaulle, and the A1. It is years since we have driven north by that route so every so often there were gasps of recognition. Especially for the little blue boat that has been marooned in its green field for ever and seems not to have aged at all!

After an age of boring driving through a flat winter landscape we made it to seclin on the outskirts of Lille.

Off to find supper.


at au bureau in seclin’s zone commercial, very cosy and good grub.

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