A French Adventure – Honfleur

So the last French adventure I’m having is in Honfleur. Now on my third visit in so many years this is a great place to stop on the way back to Calais to get the train. From Honfleur you can see the Normandy bridge which takes you closer to home, England.

A port town this is one of my favourite places in the world.

It’s peaceful, it’s fun and the food. Well the food is simply gorgeous. And if that’s not enough to win you over. They have a massive butterfly house!

Honfleur15_08One of the main things that always strikes me first about Honfleur is how beautiful a port town can be. It doesn’t seem to have any pretentious about it, and the people are so ridiculously friendly. The first year we went I got a parking fine (hangs head in shame) and everyone was so helpful in telling me how I went about sorting the whole thing out.

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I know that I promised I wouldn’t make my dad get on any other small trains but I discovered Honfleur had one, and I’m sorry to report I made him get on it. We managed to grab the front seats which made the journey so much more fun, although didn’t give me enough time to get my camera ready for upcoming shots. It’s amazing how fast those little trains can travel. Having walked around Honfleur before I was so grateful that the train took us up the hill to this beautiful church called Notre Dame de Grace. Sitting on top of a hill, which let me tell you know is a bloody hard walk, it has such a quaint feel to it. Nothing too extravagant, except for the bells. Which of course, in my awe-struckedness I didn’t take a picture of, so thank you google for this:

They are located outside of the Notre Dame de Grace and sound beautifully on the hour. In sync and with an absolutely amazing rhythm, I guess part of the appeal is that I’ve never been close to bells ringing before and weirdly enough it’s wonderful.

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The train takes you on a tour around Honfleur and shows you the beach on the outskirts which is lovely. We’d never been before so it was fantastic to see some other areas of Honfleur that really were that bit too far to walk to. Apart from Notre Dame de Grace though, you don’t get a chance to get off the train so really it’s more of a quick look and drive past and if you want to visit you need to set your mind to walking.

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Of course no trip to Honfleur would be complete without getting a ticket to the Naturospace (click the link to go to the website). It’s a wonderful site where you can spend time with butterflies, parrots, giant moths, little ground dwelling birds and fish. I love a good koi pond. It really is beautiful.

Note: It is really humid, so you know take a glasses cloth if you wear glasses and avoid keeping your hats on if you don’t want a sweaty head. (Yes, experience)

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This year is a special year for me though, because for the last two I have been trying to photograph the elusive blue butterfly, of course no exact names given as I don’t know them, but if you ever go you will know which one I mean. It’s fast, it’s electric blue on the inside of it’s wings and it almost never settles on tress or plants. But this year, and yes it’s an awful photograph, but I got a picture of it!

So Freaking Proud of this blurry photograph
So proud of this blurry photograph

I was so happy, especially as I thought all my snapping of them flying around had been in vain.

Check out some of my other photos of my day in Honfleur.

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Well that’s the French Adventure over, I wonder where to next?

A French Adventure – Reims

Reims, should probably be a longer post then this but we were literally there no time at all. So, as usual I forced my poor and unsuspecting father into one of those mini trains. Literally, if you could hear the evil laughter that the memory brings back for me you will think I’m an awful person. But anyway, I made him get in that one – last one I promise, poor man. And we went, perhaps unsurprisingly around the city of Reims.

The home of Champagne. Drool face.

What I love most about Reims is that the cathedral, bear in mind I’ve now been three or four times, is still partially covered in scaffolding. This year I think I’ve completed the circuit of the cathedral but unfortunately the cover is directly in the middle of the front of this beautiful building. Apparently it’s a long haul cleaning trip around, and by the time they’ve finished they’ll probably have to restart.

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Full of Gothic architecture, Reims is a place of imagination (at least in my eyes it is). The place, specifically the cathedral has gone through a lot. During WWI and then WWII it was heavily bombarded with shells and ended up being fully restored, thankfully, after both wars. It’s hard to describe Reims, with it’s old style buildings but totally modern feel to it as you continue to walk around I always feel slightly confused as to where I’m actually headed.

The cathedral is home to the smiling angel, see if you can spot her/him in this photo. Key hint: The Angel is smiling!

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As I write this I literally just googled the Gold Angel, and my last blog post on Reims popped up. I think that finishes this blog post (face palm slap). But I will add the link to the previous post which is basically what we did this year, but will add some photos below.

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A French Adventure – Lyon – Part Three – A River Cruise

There’s not really much to write about this river cruise. I think the photographs speak for themselves. But, as we all realise I quite like listening or reading my own words, #sorrynotsorry I’ll be brief.

This was one of the my favourite parts of the whole French holiday. Even through the mass red sunburn, and yes I was wearing suncream, and the constant fear of dropping my camera in either the River Rhône or River Saône or the bit where they come together, it was amazing.

The two women who captained the boat and gave us the tour; in both English and French I might add, were literally perfection. A smooth ride, and a witty line or too which translated well in both languages they really made the trip stand out.  When you go and get your tickets from the teeny weeny office, remember there are other trips that go in a different direction on offer too!

So without further ado, here’s what you can look forward to on the trip we took.

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So Excited. Happy Faces and Happy Hats!

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To Catch up on my French Adventure join me at the beginning in Dijon here. Or read about the other two aspects of my Lyon trip: The Basilique or The Museums.

A French Adventure – Lyon – Part Two – A Look Around

After the breathtaking goodness of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière I was a little bit conscious of the fact that perhaps we had seen all that Lyon had to offer.

Of course, my fears (as usual) were unfounded. Although in my opinion: “not as good as the Basilique,” the rest of Lyon was simply wonderful – which perhaps is saying a lot for Lyon as a whole. If you haven’t check out my Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière click the link, and if you don’t fancy reading about museums and a little bit of ice cream follow my link to the Lyon River Cruise here, and if you don’t fancy that – well I can’t help you.

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One of the key places to go in Lyon if you want to feel all culturally aware, which we did, is the Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon or The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. It is possibly the largest Fine Arts museums I’ve ever been in and took us a staggering four hours to get round, mind I ran some of the way.
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Showcased in a beautiful 17th century building, the 70-room collection is extensive, amazing and if I’m being honest completely tiring. From Ancient Egypt to a room solely dedicated to different medals this museum is not for the faint hearted – or those wearing inappropriate footwear. But, and it is a large but, even though the last 30 or so rooms are pretty blurry to me in a mass of art of all different ages/styles the bits I do remember, such as this beautiful piece of wood carving that I believe was from Iran,

Syria - Wood carving from a door about 1277
Syria – Wood carving from a door about 1277

and this ever so slightly terrifying sculpture from Laurent-Honoré Marqueste’s Perseus killing a Gorgon, are things that I literally will keep with me forever. Cheesy, yep I know.

Perss et la Gorgone - Laurent Marqueste
Perseus et la Gorgone – Laurent Marqueste

I think one of the biggest failings of this museum which is ironic really as it is also it’s positives is just how much the museum houses. Perhaps, if we’d of had enough time I would have gone back more then once to actually feel like I was seeing everything which in some cases I was merely walking past trying to finish the museum. I still highly recommend it though, and as stated before wear some bloody comfortable shoes.

Odalisque by James Pradier
Odalisque by James Pradier

After a trek and a half around the Museum of Fine Arts I decided that of course it was time for an ice-cream. And not just any ice-cream, oh no, an ice-cream I had been waiting for since arriving in Lyon. A rose shaped ice-cream. Could life get any better. I literally found out it couldn’t. Bearing in mind it started raining as soon as I had my first and last ice-cream of the holiday it was a dream.

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Before lunch on the second day of the trip in Lyon, and before our river cruise – see that blog here, I dragged my poor dad along to the Musée Miniature et Cinéma which was amazing. At least I thought so.

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Filled with bits and bobs from some ridiculously random movies; Hollywood, French and Bollywood and others the multiple-floored movie exhibit is brilliant. It’s light-hearted with the occasional curtain which reveals it might be too much for young eyes (such as some of the latex props from Buffy (yes Buffy, and yes double brackets)) but it also showed short films on how props were made, and how and what behind the scenes entailed on some sets.

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Alongside the film memorabilia (which is all original and from the actually films credited) was the miniature part of the museum. It was slightly odd, such as a miniature unused swimming pool but very intriguing. How anyone has created as much detail on some of the rooms and objects in this section was completely beyond my comprehension. It was exquisite craftsmanship, and really pretty awesome.

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There is one part of the museum I didn’t photograph, partially because I was took freaked out to hold my camera and secondly because I was so ridiculously freaked out I just wanted to get out of the exhibition – which was all to do with dolls. Not pretty dolls of the Disney-kind but creepy dolls – with bicycle wheels for hands and strangely terrifying music which made me feel like I was hyperventilating. If you fancy that kind of thing go for it, but if I ever visit again I will be avoiding that floor in its total.

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Lyon15_232If you’ve enjoyed this blog post feel free to check out my first A French Adventure in Dijon here.

A French Adventure – Lyon – Part One – Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière

Bonjour Lyon, it’s literally been amazing to meet and explore you.

The bustling, but in a slightly relaxed way, heart of Lyon sits perfectly perched between two of France’s rivers; The Saône and the Rhône just before they come together. It’s a place full of beauty, food and amazing weather. Today felt like the longest yet shortest day yet. We did so much at the end I felt as if my feet were going to fall off. By the way I apologise for having to split Lyon into three parts but this deserves a blog to itself.

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Staying in the Presqu’île which is a small slither of land between the two rivers, we had a marvellous hour and a half walk (at least) up towards one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen. The Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière which is, apparently a small basilica in Lyon (small my ass but whatever).

When I saw it I got an immediate feel of Egyptian/Byzantine architecture – clearly it’s not that old but that seemed to be the sort of style they were going for when they built it. As we got there pretty early on during the day, the haze across Lyon had yet to be ‘dissolved’ by the sun, but the panoramic view was still pretty amazing.

The basilica itself contains three chapels. The first I walked into (which is the furthest around, near the museum on the right) and was left feeling slightly depressed – it was small, no photograph allowed and there was a service taking place. As I toddled out I couldn’t believe I’d been dragged up the hill of greatest and about 300 stairs for that. But as I walked into the main body of the basilica and was given the option of up or down (go down first) I felt a tingling (cringe) of excitement. The beautiful curling banisters that led down the stairs were enough to start my brain working in overdrive about what I was about to see.

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First of all, it was dark. Second, my photos will never do the place justice, but there the best I could manage. The downstairs chapel was dark, but used vibrant yellows and some blues which my dad and I found totally bizarre for a chapel. Only scratching the surface we moved round this building and noticed the use of one particular blue – a sort of pastel green/blue if you will. In all the churches, basilicas, mosques and other religious buildings I have ever been lucky enough to step foot into I have never seen a colour like this used. Downstairs, it was dark and the colour was hard to see but then you moved upstairs and…well, how do you describe something that is almost indescribable.

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A massive church filled with detailed carvings in its arches. From the flowers that circled the bottom of each column to the mosaic tiled walls which told stories of Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc) and other Christian tales. Never have I ever been overwhelmed by a church, but here in one of France’s cities I was left feeling slightly weightless but very much in awe of how a place like this could exist. How on earth was something so beautiful made? Stained glass windows. Tall columns holding up these beautifully painted ceilings and walls. I wish I could show you so much more of this building than the internet in France will let me.

If you ever have the chance to visit Lyon, go. Go to this place that caused the people who walked through the doors to gasp. I can’t even begin to describe the different mix of emotions that surge through your body as you walk around this place. Sometimes I wonder whether religion should fit in this world, but then you see places like Fourvière and you realise how priceless someone’s faith can be. How faith in one deity or many can lead to people dreaming and imagining places like this, and making those dreams happen.

The magic happened here for me, I bet it would for you too.

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A French Adventure – Avignon Part Two

I did have to split my time in Avignon in two, even if today’s adventures weren’t quite as expansive as yesterday was. It was more about the travelling I did between the two, and by travelling I mean by foot.

We got up extra early this morning to walk over two bridges and discover the Fort Saint-Andre.

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The walk was long, the wind was strong and the small inclines felt like mountains, but it was a good trip. Fort Saint-Andre is across the river from Avignon situated in a small town called Villeneuve lez Avignon. According to our guide pamphlet it is a: “perfect example of medieval military architecture,” honestly I’m not so sure.

The walk up there wasn’t as tough as I’m making out. It took us approximately an hour and half both ways and was a bit up and down to say the least.  When we finally arrived we got told the gardens and the abbey, which I had wrongly assumed were attached (although they are) were not open, so it was only the fort we could see. Although the fort was fine, I can’t think of a better dull but good adjective for it, the only real thing about it was the panoramic views of Avignon that we got from the top of a battlement.

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There were some interesting ruins but we couldn’t access them to see more. It did seem a little strange that we could only get to one of the three places, but it was affirmed to me by our concierge later that evening that most tourist attractions were closed on a Monday. Note to all travellers: don’t come to Avignon on a Monday.

That being said, after we managed the walk back we found a beautiful restaurant, that was by the Porte de L’Oule opening in the city’s walls.

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My poor dad was more then happy to go back to the hotel to sleep after this meal, but I decided that it was time to try the Avignon mini train that I kept seeing making its rounds around the city. Can I just apologise now to my dad, although good (?) it was bumpy, uncomfortable and honestly although it gave you some slight historic knowledge I felt that having already been around most of its stops I knew it all already.

Having said that it is a nice and easy 40 minutes drive where you don’t have to do anything bar trying to stay in the carriage.

I tried a panorama, but in reality I was too close to the Palais des Papes.
I tried a panorama, but in reality I was too close to the Palais des Papes. Still kind of love it though

A French Adventure – Avignon Part One

Where do I even begin with Avignon?

O, la, la! C’est tres magnifique! It’s bold and beautiful, with all the right amount of consumerism attached.

Panorama over the Palais des Papes

After a hideously slow eight hour trek down the motorway in Mowgali (my car, if you didn’t know) we managed to arrive late in Avignon, found our hotel, settled in, ate a lot and waited for a new day to come. And what a day.

For a Sunday it’s incredible how busy Avignon was. Luckily, our hotel is a stone’s throw away from the Palais des Papes or The Palace of the Popes and we got through the ticket office before the multitude of mass tours got there. Even though it had only just opened, 10 am it was pretty packed and at some points I did feel a bit like cattle being herded. But, elbow-y tour parties with ignorant guides (I’m sorry but seriously it is not necessary to use flags to beat another person)  could not detract from what an incredibly unusual and somewhat bizarre building this Palace is.

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With the building so obviously built, rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt again, there are so many different types of architecture I couldn’t keep up. There was no uniformity other then chaos but that chaos added to the feeling of use and history of the building. It was strange how something that would usually piss off my inner OCD-esqueness actually made me acutely aware of how strangely perfect the Palace was.

Honestly, its truly magnificent. The gardens are being refurbished or perhaps more appropriately being excavated and therefore don’t look that attractive presently, but it will come. You can pop outside for a quick look but, apart from once again being discombobulated by the exterior which has had a makeover from all different eras from 14th century right up until the 20th century, the gardens are lacking.

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One niggle of mine, and my dads was the lack of memorabilia throughout the Palace. With all the history of it, that comes with houses a number of Popes, not to mention that different uses it has had throughout time e.g. a prison and barracks you could argue (or at least we did) that there should be some more things to look out. Big rooms were left looking redundant because apart from one tiny piece of mural that was left from the 14th century nothing else was in there. It seemed a shame, but still worth the visit.

Bring on the Pont D’ Avignon, or Pont Saint-Bénéze which is a bridge, semi-bridge now that was started in the 13th century when Saint-Bénéze, a shepherd decided to take his stick and tell the people of Avignon the Lord had told him to build a bridge. So he did. Although not much remains of the original bridge which had 22 arches at one time, it’s still got a charismatic charm which lifts your hear (sorry for the gooey stuff). Sitting sur le Rhône (on the River Rhône) the four arches that are left allow you to walk a short way out into the river to, if you want to, wave at passing boats. You can get an audio guide, for free – bonus, that tells you the story of Mr Bénéze, the bridges construction and rather sweetly the story of the mini chapel that features within the bridge. A very intriguing story, and if you have the time the audio guide also plays you a lot of music that is relevant, apparently, to this famous Pont D’Avignon.

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I know, there’s more. I apologise.

If you head back up the street to the Palais des Papes there is a beautiful, little park with some amazing panoramas of the Rhône. Little duck ponds with the cutest and literally I mean cute ducklings (yes I know there aren’t all year round but ahh), a beautiful cave kind-of fountain and a little restaurant with a friendly international atmosphere. It was a great place for a sit down, after taking in so much.

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Our next few stops were museums. Out of the four I visited today, there were only two that really stood out for me. Both are incredibly arty, which is slightly strange for me, but worth the visit. The other two, even though I made the fuss of going were a let down and without the Pass which you can get with certain other tickets I wouldn’t have paid the full price for them (The Calvert Archaeology Museum and the Angladon Museum).

Avignon15_095But, on to bigger and better things with the two museums we did enjoy. The first was the Petit Palais Museum, no prizes for guessing what the english name of the museum is…Full of religious painting from as far back as the 13th century this collection holds a massive amount of art for such a small price €6 full tariff, €3 with a pass (which are given to you on your Avignon Passion at each tourist hotspot). Although I’m not a massive religious art fan and there was a lot to see, almost too much, I didn’t find I got too overwhelmed with the whole place. There was a small amount of overwhelming when I reached room 14 and it told me that rooms 15 and 16 were down yet another flight of stairs, but I swiftly got over it and plodded on down. It really is a lovely museum and in some respects was really inspiring.

Of course my favourite museum had nothing really to do with religion or France, at least the bit I loved, at all. This was The Calvert Museum (NOT THE CALVERT ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM but the actual Calvert House), which is set in a beautiful privately owned home. You’re greeted by the nicest lady who lets you take photos with no flash and gives you a little book guide in your particular language. Lovely. The guide takes you through room by room starting quite sweetly with the entrance. Your move onwards into a world full of paintings, sculptures and a whole load of history. Whilst there is a lot about France my favourite rooms were about Ancient Egypt. It really is lovely. With canopic jars, and little figurines and some mummified cats and crocodiles – these few rooms were fascinating.

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After that, well we pretty much got back to the hotel and slept for a couple of hours before we managed to get ourselves out of bed and off for dinner.

NOTE TO ALL: I am now the proud owner of a rather large blister, don’t worry no photos are shown, but please, please if you come to Avignon take a good sturdy and comfortable pair of shoes. Honestly. Ow!