Champagne tasting in Aÿ, France

The Goutorbe family presents its exquisite bottles which contain your most secret dreams. All the love of the earth, all the mystery of creation.

These are the words written in the brochure for the champagne house of H. Goutorbe, located in Aÿ – famous as a centre of the production of Champagne.

It is no secret that the French are proud of their wine. And the reputation of champagne has given the region with the same name even more of a reason to be proud. Marketed as a luxurious beverage, this sparkling wine is so much more than just sparkling wine. Champagne is a protected trademark and a symbol of France as a country of high quality produce.

We visited the house of H. Goutorbe because we needed to buy a few bottles of Champagne for our upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. We could have just gone to the nearest supermarket to buy a few bottles, but as my partner’s parents live just a one hour drive away from the Champagne region, we figured we’d might as well join them and buy our golden bubbles straight from the producer. My partner’s parents are loyal satisfied costumers who visit this particular producer annually to stock up on the good stuff. It was easy to see why.

Along with a group of British tourists, we were given a tour around the production site before heading to my favorite part of the visit: the champagne tasting. The guide described the traditional way to produce champagne compared to the modern way, the process of fermentation, bottling, and explained the difference between vintage (blend of grapes harvested in a particular year) and non-vintage (blend of different wines from different years) champagne. She took us to the cellar and explained the process of the second stage of fermentation. I’m not gonna tell you everything as there’s already a great video on their website documenting the entire process!

During our tour we noticed a fun detail that made me like this family even more. A gallery full of gorgeous travel photos. Just like me, they love to travel. Once a year they travel to a new destination and bring a bottle of their trademark champagne with them. Wherever they go, they capture a photo featuring a bottle of their champagne in front of beautiful landscapes, a volcano in Hawaii (!), monuments and even in front of penguins and glaciers in the Antarctic. How cool is that?!

Moving on to the champagne tasting we were welcomed to a cozy room with a large fireplace, and ended the visit with a taste of the golden bubbles before placing our order and taking home some fine bottles waiting to be shared in good company while celebrating those special occasions with our loved ones.

Would you like a tour?

Website: H. Goutorbe 

Visit: 9 bis, rue Jeanson / F. 51160 Aÿ-Champagne

Phone: +33(0)326552170

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The old press device

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The modern ones

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The cellar

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Wonderful Wonderland: Christmas markets in London

Eleven AM, with a heavy backpack killing my back, wearing a way too warm winter coat making me feel sweaty and disgusting. I had made my way from the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras railway station to the Hyde Park corner metro station in the heart of London – a city I had visited multiple times before. My main purpose for this trip was to visit a friend who had moved here. But it wasn’t my sole purpose. I was also in London to visit the Winter Wonderland Christmas market and the little market on Leicester Square, to share yet another exciting post with you guys to get you all into the Christmas spirit – just in case my posts on the Parisian markets or the ones in Hamburg weren’t enough to get you to start rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Before entering the Winter Wonderland, be prepared to have your bags searched by security guards. My over-sized backpack made the guard chuckle. “You’re planning to move in here?” he asked jokingly. I’m sure a lot of people would have loved to move in to the Winter Wonderland. I’ve already worked and lived on Disney property in Orlando, which is kind of the same thing – but less cold and less foggy.

I bought a cup of hot cider – which is way better than it sounds (in case you haven’t already tried it) and went to explore the market. Just like the Winter Dom in Hamburg, Germany, the Winter Wonderland is a combination of a traditional Christmas market and a large fun fair. The Wonderland also presents exciting entertainment such as different circus shows, The Nutcracker on Ice, puppet shows for the little ones and live music for the festive crowd.

You’re welcome to go ice skating on the Wonderland’s ice rink, or perhaps you’d rather grab a drink in the Bar Ice instead? As I am pretty much Bambi on ice, I’ll skip the ice rink and head over to Bar Ice and drink a cocktail from an ice cup instead. Cheers!

General Information

what: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

where: Hyde Park (metro: Hyde Park corner or Marble Arch)

when: Until January 2nd, 2017

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It was still early afternoon and none of the shows were on yet and my backpack (yes, it’s just a lame excuse to cover up my fear of heights and high speed) prevented me from riding any attractions, so I decided to move on to a different part of the city to visit a smaller and more traditional kind of Christmas market.

Leicester Square. The square is transformed into a Holiday heaven – where Santa himself is waiting for the little ones to come and tell him their dearest wish. If meeting Santa doesn’t interest you because, well, you’re an adult, then why not book tickets to the theatrical show La Soirée? If acrobatics, burlesque and pyrotechnics is your thing (and you’re over 18), you’ll have a great time!

If not, strolling along this lovely little market with a hot beverage in your hand while doing a bit of Christmas shopping, is not a bad idea either.

General Information

what: Christmas in Leicester Square

where: Leicester Square (metro to Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus)

when: 11.11.16 – 08.01.16

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Moments of Weakness: Christmas markets in Paris

It’s already December and Christmas is just around the corner! What better way to get into the Holiday spirit than by visiting multiple Christmas markets?

A few days ago, I visited two of the many markets in Paris: The most famous one (Champs-Élysées) and the biggest one (La Défense). I enjoyed a nice cup of hot wine, bought myself some delicious artisan salted caramel nougat and pain d’épices (spice bread) and ended up buying some saucissons au canard(dry cured duck sausages), perfect for apéro. I didn’t plan on buying any of these things, but that’s what happens when you take pictures at a Christmas market in France. You photograph food and the next minute you’re tasting it, having a nice conversation with the producers and buying products from them.Well, I guess I had a moment of weakness, but then again, how can anyone possibly resist French food – or charming French vendors?

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Champs-Élysées is currently decorated with gorgeous Christmas lights to celebrate the Holiday. When they light up at night, the boulevard transforms into something magical  – like taken out of a Disney movie. Last night I felt that magic, as I was strolling along the boulevard. However, the day I went to visit the Christmas market – in the morning – something way less magical happened. I witnessed a fight between a tourist and a pickpocket who had allegedly stolen a purse from the tourist. Seemed like the tourist won the fight – and the pickpocket surrendered and moved on to the next target; me. The pickpocket-lady tried to approach me, so I started speed walking my way out of there.

Few minutes later, there I was. Safe and sound at the Christmas market. As you all know, most European countries have increased security at the Christmas markets due to recent events, and even though it was strange to see more police officers than civilians at the market (it was 11 am), it sure made me feel at ease. My hands were cold, so I bought myself a cup of hot wine to warm my frozen fingers and to satisfy my taste buds. I took a picture of some lovely Christmas ornaments. The vendor noticed and asked me jokingly if I could take a picture of him too. I laughed politely, wished him a good day and moved on to the next chalet. The ornament-vendor wasn’t the only one pulling that joke. Most of the vendors did. I wanted to take a picture of the French traditional artisan nougat. So I did. “Do I look good in the photo? Do you want a different pose?” the vendor asked me in French. I explained to him that he wasn’t the star of the photo – the nougat was. He offered me to try three different types. The traditional one, a cashew one and one with salted caramel – which I ended up buying. The smell of raclette lingered in the air. Although the smell is awful, the fact that I know it’s raclette and raclette tastes amazing, made me wanna feed my stomach with this heavenly melted cheese.

The Christmas market on Champs-Élysées is quite spread out, as the main road and its traffic divides the market in half. Nonetheless, the market was quite a joyful event thanks to the funny vendors, high quality produce, delicious street food and lovely Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées. Make sure you visit this market in the evening to get the wonderfully magical atmosphere!

where: Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris

when: From 11.11.16 to 08.01.2017

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La Défense has the biggest and most authentic Christmas market in the region of île de France. This market is set up like a village, filled with more than 300 chalets displaying handmade crafts, fresh produce and small restaurants. Set in the financial district, the market was obviously full of businessmen – and women – enjoying a nice lunch at the market before returning to the office. As I photographed the food displayed by one of the restaurants, one of the chefs called me over to tell me “that’s 2 euros per picture”. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, and he could tell by the confused look on my face. He laughed and shook his head to confirm that he was indeed messing with me. A vendor called me over and asked me if I wanted to taste some nougat. I had to disappoint him as I had already bought some from someone else. A lady offered me some caramelized almonds. I didn’t buy any – and felt guilty about it.  I didn’t take many pictures at this market, as it was way too crowded and actually way less picturesque than the market on Champs-Élysées. Picture-perfect or not, this market has great variety in terms of handmade ornaments, outerwear, artisan produce, street food – and drinks. The market is also right next to a shopping center, which gives you the opportunity to go shopping for Christmas presents before or after exploring the Christmas market. Be careful – or you’ll end up spending too much, eating too much and drinking too much. But then again, when in France…

where: Parvis de la Défense, 92400 Paris La Défense

when: 17.11.16 – 27.12.16

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Other Christmas markets in Paris

Christmas market and ice rink near the Eiffel Tower – at Champ de Mars

place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Montparnasse Tower

Montmartre

Gare de l’Est

Notre Dame Cathedral

Place d’Italie

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(photos from the market on Champs-Élysées)

 

 

The Spontaneous Trip to Trier, Germany

One of the things I love the most about road trips is the freedom to be spontaneous. The freedom to spend more time in one place – or leave earlier than expected to go somewhere completely different instead. Or just add an extra day if going home seems a bit too soon. Am I ever ready to go home from a road trip? No.

One of those road trips led me to Germany, to a city called Trier (or Treves, if you prefer its former name).

We were on the road, my boyfriend and I, on our way from Luxembourg to France. Our trunk was full of Belgian fruit beers and six different dipping sauces for fries – the result of a trip to a supermarket in Belgium, a couple of days earlier. As much as I love beer, fries and dipping sauces, I didn’t feel completely satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted German candy. And German chocolate. Or just an excuse to go to Germany to satisfy my need for adventures. The nearest city that seemed interesting based on a quick search on Google, was Trier. And boy was it interesting!

Before getting our fix of Ritter Sport and Haribo, we decided to check out the city and its tourist attractions. The High Cathedral of Saint Peter and the Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) were the first monuments we went to explore. The cathedral, a Roman Catholic church, is the oldest cathedral in Germany. The Church of Our Lady is, along with the Cathedral of Magdeburg, the earliest Gothic church in Germany and is located next to the Trier Dom.

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We moved on to the Hauptmarkt, where my partner decided it was time for lunch – more specifically, a curry wurst (Bratwurst hot-dog with curry ketchup). I’m not much of a hot-dog eater, so I skipped lunch to save space for what I already knew would be a heavy meal – at the traditional German restaurant we were planning to visit later that day.

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We wanted to visit the Imperial Roman Baths (Kaiserthermen), but decided not to – as there was too much renovation work going on and the entrance fee was kind of high (considering the fact that we  wouldn’t be able to see much anyway). We took a few photos from afar and were satisfied with that. I guess I’ll have to come back in the future and visit the ruins properly after the renovation work is completely finished.

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Another historical piece found in Trier is the Porta Nigra, a large Roman city gate. Today, it is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. The gate is designated as part of the Roman monuments – which, along with the High Cathedral of Saint Peter and Church of Our Lady – are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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While on our way to see the Roman Baths, we came across another gorgeous site; the Electoral Palace (Kurfurstliches Palais) – a gorgeous rococo building from 1615.

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After a few hours of walking around exploring this lovely city in the Moselle region (which is a region of amazing white wine, FYI), my belly started rumbling and begging me to feed it. I’m never one to disagree with my belly, so my partner and I agreed to look for a good restaurant somewhere nearby, where we could both enjoy a big, fat meal and celebrate this nice little spontaneous day trip.

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Hello, Zum Domstein ! What a great dinner it was. My significant other ordered a wiener schnitzel. A classic choice. And me, I channeled my inner grandma and ordered meat loaf. Accompanied by a pint of banana beer, because banana beer is simply amazing.

We parked our car right next to a supermarket, which gave us immediate access to buy as much as we could carry of those sweet, delicious Haribo sweets and Ritter Sport chocolates. What a great way to end an already lovely day.

Thank you Trier, for the unexpected as well as the expected.

 

 

 

Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Brussels, Belgium

With a pint of raspberry flavored beer in one hand and my Brussels guidebook in the other, I tried to make some sort of a list of things to see and do in the capital city. We were only a forty-nine minute drive away from the city – according to Google maps – and in no hurry, whatsoever. The weather was lovely in Antwerp. Sunshine and not a cloud in sight. May the rest of the day be blessed with sunshine too – I said to myself. Fingers crossed.

Before making our way downtown, we went to see the Atomium, which is a building that was originally constructed for the Universal Exhibition – just like the Eiffel tower in Paris – and is now a major tourist attraction. The Atomium depicts nine atoms and is in the shape of the body-centered cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

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We didn’t buy tickets to enter the building itself as the lines were too long and we were too impatient to stand in what looked like a never-ending line to buy tickets, then another long line to enter. Neither me nor my partner were ever good at being tourists. We’re just good at taking photos of stuff and moving on to the next place. Which is exactly what we did.

We stayed at the Bedford Hotel & Congress Centre, a large hotel conveniently located in the heart of Brussels, just around the corner from the famous Manneken Pis. We were agreeably surprised by the price of the hotel. 130 euros for two nights  – including breakfast!

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Although we saved a lot of money thanks to our nice-price accommodation, we definitely didn’t keep our wallets closed while in Brussels. Not at all. Just ask the barmen and the chocolate-salesmen (and women).

I couldn’t resist buying myself a hot chocolate – white chocolate and coconut – from Le Comptoir de Mathilde , even though I didn’t initially want one. Everything in that store looked tempting, and I would have bought half the store if my partner hadn’t put his foot down and dragged me out of the store after I got my hot chocolate. No wonder I’m not skinny.

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We bought ourselves some yummy chocolate as well as cute souvenirs for our loved ones at the lovely store La Belgique Gourmande. I wanted to buy everything there. I mean, I found the most adorable cookie tins – obviously filled with deliciousness – which would fit perfectly together with all the other stuff I’m hoarding in my apartment. La Belgique Gourmande also offered a large selection of beer. But so did the mini market around the corner. And the souvenir shops across the street. That’s just Belgium, really.

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Speaking of beer; when in Brussels, you have to visit Delirium Café. This bar is enormous, and so is their selection of beer. With 30 beers on tap and over 3000 beers in total, how can a beer lover possibly resist? Even if you don’t like beer, you’ll love the Belgian fruit beers. Hands down. I ordered the cactus beer by Floris (photo below – the green one), which was one of the few fruit beers on tap. And I loved it. Amazingly refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet.

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The most beautiful part of Brussels is without a doubt the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, the central square of the city – and a World Heritage Site. There’s no better place in Brussels to take beautiful pictures than here. “Smile to the camera,” he said. I did, but not to the camera. I looked away instead. “Let’s get back to the hotel and relax with a beer before dinner,” I suggested. He laughed at me. “All you wanna do is drink beer”. He made it sound like I had a drinking problem. My only problem was feeling like a kid in a candy store. That’s me in Belgium.

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C’est Bon, C’est Belge was the name of the restaurant we went to that evening. And yes, it was good. Traditional Belgian cuisine. It was really good. We both ordered the same thing; a tasting platter with five different traditional local dishes and some deli meat/sausages. Everything tasted as good as I imagined it would. And the waiter was everything you want in a waiter: he had a great sense of humor, he was efficient and he knew the menu by heart – and the beers too!

As always, whenever I visit a new place, I check out their local coffee shops. So in Brussels I found this place called OR Espresso Bar. When I told my partner I wanted to go there, his immediate reaction was “but you don’t like espresso”. Which is true. I don’t like espresso, but as a coffee shop, I knew they’d have other things too. Like the lemonade he ordered for himself. Me, I went with a classic latte.

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And what better way to say goodbye to Brussels than by eating waffles? Mokafé is known for serving the best Belgian waffles in Brussels, so we went there after breakfast. Yes, after breakfast. We weren’t hungry, we just needed to stuff our faces with a large amount of Belgian calories. Just one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Ancient Ruins of Athens, Greece

Ah, Greece. The fascinating country with an even more fascinating history – and mythology. Travel back in time and imagine the city as it was during the classical period of ancient Greece. Back when Athens was the center for the arts, learning and philosophy.

Visit the ruins  of what once was a spectacular library. Visit the ruins of the many temples built in honor of the Greek gods and goddesses. Visit the ancient cemetery. Ancient theaters. The stadium. For the love of Zeus – just put on some good shoes, bring your camera and visit absolutely everything!

I visited Athens with my significant other. What was supposed to be a relaxing beach vacation on the outskirts of Athens, turned out to be more of an educational city trip instead. After just a day of doing nothing, we both realized how difficult it is for two restless adventure-seekers to be able to enjoy a full week of laziness, so we decided to take the local bus (KTEL) to Cape Sounio (photos below) to see the beautiful ruins of the Temple of Poseidon. Two days later we took the bus the opposite direction, to the city of Athens where we spent a complete day exploring the city. Two days later, we went back to the city for another full day of exploring monuments, ruins and everything else that makes Athens as fascinating as it is. In Athens, you never really run out of things to do.

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As we got off the bus in Athens we were kind of clueless as to where to start – and we didn’t even know where we were, except that we were somewhat close to the Acropolis. Turned out we were right in front of the Parliament House – just in time to see the changing of the guard. A fun experience for tourists. And it’s totally free. Too bad I forgot to take pictures of the ceremony.

We continued to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where we were given the option to buy individual tickets to see the temple only – or a package which allows you to visit multiple sites on the same ticket. We already knew we wanted to visit the Acropolis anyway, so we went with the package deal. Considering we ended up visiting every single site listed on the ticket, we definitely made the right decision – which also saved us a lot of money!

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While on our way to the next site, we made a quick stop to photograph the Arch of Hadrian, a monumental gateway between the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the rock of the Acropolis. Speaking of Acropolis; did you know that the word acropolis comes from the Greek words “akron” (highest point) and “polis” (city)?

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Ancient citadel, historical Acropolis was as captivating as I expected it to be. But also as crowded – and under renovation. Even with cranes, workers and selfie-taking tourists blocking the full view, visiting these ruins is a magical experience unlike any other. I overheard tourists comparing it to Rome, but this is nothing like Rome. This is Athens. They are both beautiful cities and might have certain similarities, but you shouldn’t compare. The Greek gods would not approve of comments like that. I don’t know about you, but when in Greece, I think it’s a good idea not to mess with them!

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The Parthenon, a former temple on the Acropolis. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena.

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Built at the foot of the Acropolis, there’s the Theater of Dionysus. It was used as a theater since the sixth century Before Christ, and has recently been brought back to life as it has been renovated and will apparently be hosting more and more theater performances in the future.

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As fascinating as the ruins are, there’s also another reason to visit the Acropolis. Just check out this gorgeous view over the city!

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After visiting the Acropolis, we walked down the hill – only to walk up another one, to get a great view over the Acropolis from a distance. While on top of the Areopagus rock (Areopagus translates to “Ares’ Hill”) we enjoyed the view – together with a bunch of other tourists. A lot of tourists visit this rock because it was, supposedly, from this location Apostle Paul had delivered his famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands”.

We didn’t hang out there for too long as we were both starting to feel quite thirsty and slightly tired. We needed to sit down somewhere, preferably a nice little cafe or restaurant – with an ice-cold, refreshing beverage.

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We wanted to visit Hadrian’s Library the same day, but had to save it for later as it was closed by the time we got there. On our second day trip to Athens, we did indeed get to visit this library created by Roman Emperor Hadrian. Once the largest library in Athens, now only ruins are left.img_20161011_212110

We also visited the Temple of Hephaestus. I was surprised by how well-preserved this temple is!

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The last site we visited was Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens which is an archaeology site and museum….and for some reason it’s also the home of land turtles? At least we found five individual turtles wandering around the site, happy and healthy.

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How a Drunk Guy’s Story Brought me to Antwerp, Belgium

Maybe nine or ten years ago, I fell in love with a story told by someone who was very, very drunk. Someone who had fallen in love with the city of Antwerp in Belgium, and couldn’t stop talking about it. “I want to find a nice Belgian girl and settle down in Antwerp. I had the best time of my life there, you know. It’s a beautiful city. And the people there are so friendly, and the beer – oh my God – the beer”, he slurred and took a sip of his non-Belgian beer. “You have to go to Antwerp, you really have to”, he continued. While most other people at that party got fed up with listening to him obsessing over Antwerp and wouldn’t take his drunken slur seriously , I just wanted to know more. I wanted to fall in love with Antwerp too.

And now, many years later, I was finally on my way to Antwerp. My boyfriend and I had decided to go on a road trip to Brussels and decided to spend one night in Antwerp because of my strong desire to go there. And the city was just as amazing as I had expected it to be. I had fallen in love-  just like the drunk guy at the party.

We stayed at the Hotel Prinse, which is an old-fashioned four star hotel set in a 16th century building only a stone’s throw away from the historical center of Antwerp. When we arrived, we received welcome drinks (a glass of wine each). What a pleasant surprise. Cheers to us. Cheers to Antwerp!

The old city center of Antwerp reminded me of how much I love living in Europe. The ancient buildings and narrow streets, the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady and intimate pubs and restaurants on every corner. We grabbed a beer at Paters Vaetje and enjoyed the beautiful autumn sunshine. Tourists of all ages were taking selfies on the Grote Markt (Great Market Square), while others were hanging out drinking beer like us, or snacking on some of the Belgian specialties; chocolate, waffles or fries!

We strolled the narrow streets and tried our hardest to resist the smell of delicious waffles and the sight of tasty chocolate. I wanted to eat it all. But instead of stuffing our faces with calories, we went to see the Het Steen – a medieval fortress, built in the early middle ages. This beautiful fortress managed to get my mind off snacking – at least for a little while – until we both agreed to return to the Grote Markt to buy fries from Frituur Number One, which for some reason has become kind of famous and is always crowded with tourists. Basically, curiosity brought us there. The fries were basic, though. Nothing out of the ordinary. So don’t expect a mouthgasm – unless you already get one from whatever random fries you order anywhere else.

Dumb as we were, we hadn’t made any dinner reservations anywhere and started to panic as we got turned down by one restaurant after another. Eventually we found a nice restaurant called De Bomma , which I think translates to “at grandma’s”, which would make sense as the concept is nostalgic, traditional food –  just like from your grandma’s kitchen…if she was Flemish. The food was good. I especially loved the appetizer; cheese croquettes with fried, crispy parsley on the side. I had never tried parsley prepared in such a creative way before, but it sure was interesting and a lot better than non-fried, non-crispy parsley!

After a heavy meal at grandma’s, we made the clever decision to go to a beer bar to make our already full stomachs even fuller. According to online reviews, Cafe Kulminator was supposed to be one of the best – or THE best – beer bars in the city of Antwerp. My boyfriend was kind of scared to go there, as some reviews said the owners were not very friendly towards francophone’s. I reassured him it would be okay, and I’d do all the talking – as his french accent would give him away. The owners didn’t seem unfriendly, though. And what a fascinating establishment. Random decoration, random furniture and a whole lot of board games everywhere. It looked like my grandma’s attic. Or a flee market. Cafe Kulminator has probably every type of Belgian beer that exists, behind the counter – and the menu looked more like an enormous dictionary than a menu. We gave up on the menu and just ordered what they had on tap.

As I’m not a big fan of the coffee served in hotel breakfast buffets, I was happy to discover that there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from in Antwerp. We visited Caffe Mundi, a coffee shop specialized in roasting high quality coffee. I highly recommend this place if you’re the kind of person who want to know exactly what you’re drinking, as the menu gives you the option to choose between blends and single origin coffee – the very best coffee from different countries around the world.

I finished my coffee and thanked the barista. I silently thanked the rest of Antwerp too. For letting me enjoy this charming city. For letting it be exactly what I hoped it would be.

Thank you drunk guy, for the recommendation. You were right. You were right about everything.

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Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

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Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

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Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

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Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

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Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

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Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

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And you, will I see you in the department of Oise?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solo travel and Social Anxiety

We all have dreams. We all have a passion for something. But do we all have the guts to follow our dreams and face all the obstacles? Do you ever find yourself thinking “I’m not smart, extroverted or talented enough to make it”?

Is your passion the same as mine? Do you want to travel the world, write about it and inspire others to get out there, see the world and live the life they’ve always dreamed of? Did you just say “yes” to all these questions, but deep down inside you know you’d never be able to expose your life and share your deepest thoughts on a blog like this? And although you like the idea of traveling solo, you’re sure you’d pee your pants before even getting to the airport?

Trust me, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m still there. People who don’t know me very well usually mistake me for an extrovert, as I talk a lot when I’m in a social setting where it’s expected of me to participate in the conversation. Some may notice how awkward and nervous I am when I talk, while others think it’s just the way I am. Trust me, there’s so much more going on in my head than what I’m able to say out loud. I’m always anxious in big groups of people, because I always feel like I’m the one who doesn’t fit in. The outcast. The weird one. Yet, traveling solo doesn’t bother me at all anymore. It was scary the first time – just how everything is scary the first time you try something new. Being alone doesn’t bother me. But being labeled as someone who is brave, just because I went places completely on my own – now THAT’S what bothers me.

I am not brave because I travel solo. I am brave when I manage to go to birthday parties and other events where I’m surrounded by a lot of people I don’t know and I try my hardest to act normal, when all I want to do is grab my jacket and run away. I am not brave because I dine alone in restaurants or spend a week alone in a hotel. I am brave when I manage to make a phone call, when all I want to do is hang up immediately and lay down in fetal position to calm my nerves. I am not nervous about flying alone, taking the train alone – and I probably wouldn’t have a problem with going on a cruise by myself either (I have to try that one day). I am not scared of unknown places. I am not scared of blogging about my travels and sharing my tips. I am not scared of sharing photos and updates from my trips online.  What does scare me is what people I already know, think of me. I am scared of their judgement. But I’d never let social anxiety or shyness get in the way of my dreams. And neither should you. My fears will never be the boss of me. And neither should yours.

A lot of people have told me they envy me for traveling solo, running a travel blog and making a little money from it, from time to time. Now that you’ve read this post, remember that I am not braver than you. We are just fighting different battles.

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These photos were taken by my boyfriend – my current travel partner (most of the time) – in Étretat, Normandie, France

 

Review: A night at the elegant Château de la Cazine (Limousin region, France)

Where it is:  Domaine de la Fôt, 23300 Noth, rural Limousin region (France)

Website: http://www.chateaudelacazine.fr/en/

Who it is suitable for: romantic getaway, weddings, those who want to pamper themselves with spa-treatments and need a break from everyday stress

Thumbs up for…:  friendly staff, lovely room with gorgeous decor

Thumbs down for…: the swimming pool. It was supposed to be heated, but I got myself an ice-cold surprise as I entered

**

Ah, those romantic weekend-getaways. People have different ways of spicing up their relationship. Castles, spa-treatments and local gastronomy is ours. Fortunately,  me and my significant other live in France, where  there’s plenty of charming chateau-hotels to choose from and the restaurants will (most likely) not disappoint you. A lot of these classy chateaus offer bicycle rental, spa-treatments or have their own swimming pool and maybe even a tennis court.

Château de la Cazine offer all those things – and more. The chateau offers relaxing spa treatments and has an outdoor swimming pool for those who want to relax in the nice, supposedly heated water. It was freezing cold when we were there, though.

If swimming pools and spa-treatments don’t interest you, then what about horse riding? Fishing? Or maybe you’d like to play tennis, rent a bicycle – go mountain biking if you’re more of an adventurous type – or maybe you’d like to use the chateau’s own gym? Remember, if you need a soothing sports massage after a good workout, you can get one of those here too!

Although the chateau is located in a rather remote area, it’s safe to say you won’t get bored. This beautiful venue is also frequently used for weddings and as a honeymoon location. In case you’re a bride or groom to be; this place is perfect for that idyllic wedding in the french countryside. Just perfect.

And what are the rooms like? Sophisticated, old-fashioned and elegant en-suites, designed and decorated with a modern twist to the style of Louis XIV. You enter the room and immediately feel like a royal. I wore my invisible crown all day that day.

Now, let’s talk about the restaurant.

At first I was slightly disappointed. We spent a long time waiting for the server to take our order. A very long time. So long, in fact, that we decided not to order any cheese or dessert, as we were afraid we’d be stuck there waiting impatiently for something that possibly wouldn’t even arrive. The rest of the evening was fine. The meal was nice, the wine was good, the atmosphere was lovely. The breakfast the following morning was the typical french breakfast with bread, jam, pastries, coffee/tea and juice. They also served other things like ham and different kinds of cheese, to cater to the international crowd, I guess. That’s a big plus.

After a lovely breakfast and a nice little chat with the lovely receptionist, it was time to check out and remove my invisible princess crown.

 

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