Un séjour en france

It was 10 years ago last month when I went camping abroad for the first time with my father. We went away to France for three weeks, travelling down to southern Brittany and then to a resort called Saint-Hilaire-De-Riez, further down on the west coast. The following years saw delightful summers away in France, exploring more of the beautiful French coast and eventually venturing further afield into Spain, and even making it to the west coast of Portugal.

While I don’t have the time off during the summer that I used to, I join my father for a week or two while he is away (he works as a teacher, hence why he goes away during the summer holidays). This year he is staying in a house with my mother for a month in a French town called Cancale in northern Brittany, which is renowned for oysters. I went out with them on a ferry to Calais and we drove down to Cancale. I had been to Cancale and all of the other nearby towns before on previous holidays, so it was nice to be back in one of my favourite parts of France for a 12 day break.

A view of Cancale from the top of a hill

 

There is a market on Sundays in Cancale, so on our first day we explored the market and walked down to the seafront where people were eating oysters fresh from the sea. I tried oysters for the first time last year when I went to Guernsey and I wasn’t a fan. I tried them again this year… I’m still not a fan.

Oysters fresh out of the sea

My mother hadn’t been to this part of France before, so while I was away my father and I took her to our favourite places, including some beautiful French towns called St-Malo, Dinard and Dinan. We also had some friends who stayed with us so they joined us as we explored around the local area.

While most of my holiday was spent travelling around I also had the chance to relax and recharge my batteries. We had one day at a nearby beach where we could take our dog Barney and the weather was beautiful. I had several swims in the sea and topped up my tan. We also saw a dolphin in the distance which was pretty cool!

A beautiful day at the beach

The day after relaxing at the beach my mother and I drove to Le Mont St-Michel, which you can see in the distance from Cancale. I had been to this fascinating place as well, but I was excited to go back as I got to show my mother around. It’s a bit manic as Le Mont St-Michel is very popular with tourists. It’s also a good workout because once you enter the citadel, you have to go up a steep hill and a lot of steps to reach the abbey at the top.

I hadn’t been in the abbey before, so it was exciting to look around an attraction that was new to me. The views from the top were stunning and I could just see Cancale in the distance. The tide is very strong in this part of France and the sea on the day I went was very far out. Quite a few people walked around the outside of the citadel on the sand, which I had done before when visiting Le Mont St-Michel in the past.

Le Mont St-Michel

I drank quite a bit of wine and ruby beer, which is fruit flavoured and red coloured beer. I also had a lot of treats including Breton sausage in a crepe, Breton tart (light custard tart with prunes) and the classic French custard tart which is my absolute favourite French treat. My father made a beef bourguignon which was delicious, and we had quite a few BBQs as well.

I don’t know where my 12 days away went- they’ve just flown by! I went to France by ferry and came back to England by plane on Thursday. I flew from the airport in Dinard, which is the smallest one I have ever been to. There is only one departure lounge and the runway is rather short. At least you can’t get lost in the airport!

My parents are in France for another two weeks and they have more friends joining them. I’m sure that they’ll enjoy the rest of their holiday. In the meantime I am house sitting, back at work and will soon resume my training for the half marathon on the 15th October!

 

Happy reading and blogging!

Clare Bear 🙂

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Une semaine à Paris

One of my close friends who I went to university with asked me back in April if I fancied going to Paris for a week in October. I immediately replied with yes! The last time I went to Paris was back in 2005/6 on a school trip, which only really scratched the surface of the beautiful city. So on Sunday 2nd October I got on board the Eurostar from London and arrived in Paris in the early afternoon.

The start of the trip was certainly interesting. We decided to walk from the Gare du Nord to our hotel, as we had been sitting on trains all morning and it was about a 40 minute walk. I knew that we would be walking past the Moulin Rouge, but little did we know that we would be making our way through the Red Light district of Paris! We walked past lots of sex shops until we reached the Moulin Rouge. Our hotel was about a 10-15 minute walk from the Moulin Rouge, so we were close to the Montmarte region of Paris where the Sacre Coeur is.

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Outside the Moulin Rouge on the first night

On the first day we went on a Seine river cruise and went up the Eiffel Tower. The weather was stunning, which made the views of Paris look even more beautiful from the top of the iconic Eiffel Tower. We then climbed up the Arc De Triomphe and walked down the Champs-Élysées at night. This was my friend’s first trip to Paris and he loved what we saw on our first day. He was amazed with the views and we both found it funny to watch the chaos of traffic around the Arc De Triomphe (I could never drive around Paris, it’s mad!).

Before travelling to Paris my friend and I planned in advance what excursions we would do. However we both didn’t realise that the Louvre isn’t open on Tuesdays! We got there first thing in the morning and wondered why it was so quiet. So instead we visited the Musée d’Orsay, an old railway station converted into a museum which holds artwork and sculptures, including paintings by Van Gogh. We then discovered the Place de la Concorde and the church of Madeleine, a church built like a temple.

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Quiet at the Louvre!

For a break my friend wanted to visit Angelina’s, a decadent tea room opposite the Jardin des Tuileries. It was 8.20 euros for a hot chocolate, but it was recommended as the best hot chocolate in Paris. We both had one of each, a normal hot chocolate and a white one. The white hot chocolate was my favourite and the best I’ve ever had! The normal one was a bit too sickly for me. They were served with whipped cream, which was the lightest cream I’ve ever tasted; it literally dissolved in my mouth.

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Angelina’s hot chocolate

After drinking sickly yet sweet hot chocolate we went to the Notre Dame. We had to go back on Friday to climb up the towers as we were there in the late afternoon and the queue had closed to go up. The Notre Dame was as beautiful as I remember. Another church which I found breathtaking and hadn’t visited before was the Sainte-Chapelle. It was tiny inside but the sainted glass windows were so colourful which emitted a warming colour light inside. Then we went to see the Bastille, and took a long evening walk along the Seine to the Hotel de Ville.

Wednesday morning was a very different start to the day. We went to the Catacombs, a creepy yet popular attraction where you walk through underground tunnels of piled up skeletons! I had visited the Catacombs previously, but this time I had an audio guide which meant learning a lot more about its history. After climbing up lots of steps to life again, we took a quick visit to the Luxembourg Gardens and then headed to the Concierge, formerly a prison where Mairie-Antoinette was held prisoner until she was executed. In the evening we spent nearly 3 hours in the Louvre! Turns out that the massive museum is open until late on Wednesday evenings, so it was pretty cool to wander around while it was getting dark outside. Of course we went to see the Mona Lisa first!

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The Hotel de Ville at night

My uni friend and I decided to keep Thursday free for a trip to Versailles. The palace is beautiful and the gardens are absolutely outstanding! You don’t really get to see much in the palace because it’s so big, but I was glad to see the well-known Hall of Mirrors. It truly was something very different. After a tour of the palace we spent most of the day trying to see as much of the estate as possible. We visited the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, two smaller palaces away from the main one with their own beautiful gardens. By around 5pm we both couldn’t physically see anymore of the main gardens as our feet were hurting from so much walking. However, I was happy with what I saw and would love to visit another time.

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The Hall of Mirrors

Friday was yet another jam packed day of visiting attractions. First we went up the towers at Notre Dame and then paid our respects at the Deportation Memorial near the Notre Dame, a memorial for Jews who died during the Second World War. After that we made our way to the quirky Centre Pompidou, a contemporary arts museum full of interesting and ‘odd’ looking pieces of art work. I loved the architecture of the museum, even if it does stand out as a bit incongruous with the rest of the buildings in Paris. We then went for a walk down the Canal St Martin, where Audrey Tautou skims stones in the famous film Amélie.

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The Centre Pompidou

We ended Friday with a trip to the Sacre Coeur. A service was being held when we went inside the church, so sat at the back and watched. It was nice to listen to a church service in French. A market was being held all around the Sacre Coeur over the weekend. A sort of wine festival was being held, where you paid 2 euros for a plastic wine glass and then you paid about 2 euros for it to be filled with wine. I certainly felt very cheery on Friday evening after drinking three glasses of wine!

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Drinking wine outside the Sacre Coeur!

I couldn’t believe how quick our final day came round. We had done all of the major attractions by the end of the week, so we went back into the Louvre for a few hours of what we hadn’t seen. We wanted to have a portrait done at the Artist’s Square near the Sacre Coeur, but it was 60 euros which we couldn’t really afford! So we had a lovely meal instead, and then headed over to the Tour Montparnasse. A skyscraper with a lift that takes 38 seconds to get to the 56th floor, we enjoyed our final evening at the top of the Tour Montparnasse. We watched a sunset over Paris and saw the Eiffel Tower’s spectacular light show on the hour.

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Sunset over Paris

It was amazing how much we managed to fit into our trip to Paris. I knew that a week would be plenty of time to do all of the most popular attractions, and we had time to do the lesser known ones and discover the quieter parts of Paris. We never rushed to get anywhere or finish attractions, but my feet did hurt every night when we got back to the hotel. It’s amazing how much walking you can do in Paris and how close many of the attractions are. We had sitting breaks quite often throughout the day, which was a great opportunity to watch the world go by. I wore walking boots most of the time and we climbed up and down a hell of a lot of steps! So I certainly got a lot of exercise while being in Paris.

We also had some very delicious food while staying in Paris. I had quite a few crepes filled with nutella and bananas, and some lovely main meals including beef bourguignon and steack hache (a posh French version of a beef burger). I had some lovely wine as well, especially at the Sacre Coeur, and I got to have a hot drink of vanilla milk at the Cafe des Deux Moulins, where Amélie in the film Amélie works as a waitress! It was pretty surreal being inside the cafe where the film was made, and there was a poster of Audrey Tautou as Amélie with her signature.

Overall I had a fantastic week away in Paris. It’s a truly beautiful city with so much to see and explore. A big thank you to my friend who invited me back in April to go to Paris.

Merci beaucoup!

Clare Bear 🙂

Una semana en España

I have been fortunate to have two holidays in one month! I went to Berlin for a mini city break and I came back from the northern coast of Spain today. I met my dad, his friend and my dog Barney at Bilbao airport last Friday along with my mum and her friend. We stayed in a beautiful house near a small town called Gama, which lies in between Santander and Bilbao.

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Trying to look cool while drinking lemon beer!

However, we couldn’t go into the house until the following day, so we all stayed in a tent for one night. My dad and his friend had already pitched the tent from the night before, by a small resort on the outskirts of Bilbao. The weather was lovely in the afternoon (I went for a swim in the sea) but then it turned stormy in the evening, to the extent that we all had to put jackets on and a small fan heater in the tent to warm up! We all laughed about it, since it felt like being back in Britain.

The next day was much better weather wise, and we were all stunned by the house which my dad had found online. The garden was huge so Barney ran around like the typical Springer spaniel he is, and all of the rooms were spacious and modern. There was even a masonry BBQ and a stone pizza oven in the garden!

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The house

There were some lovely resorts within driving distance of where we were staying, including Loreda, Noja and Berrida. All of them had lovely sandy beaches and the water was pleasant to swim in.

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Noja

Unfortunately it was difficult to find spots for Barney, as most beaches do not allow dogs on them. Barney got to have a swim around when we walked to the harbour in Loreda, and my dad managed to find a few spots where Barney could go in.

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Barney is ready to play!

My dad and I have toured the northern coast of Spain before, so we decided to show two places to the others, which were Santillana Del Mar and  Suances. Santillana is a historic town which attracts thousands of holiday makers every year due to its picturesque buildings and its history of the Spanish Inquisition, where information about it can be found at the torture museum!

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Spanish torture museum

Suances is a sea side resort which is only about 5 miles north of Santillana. We had lunch in Suances and I treated myself to a rather naughty looking ice cream! It’s a popular town for night life, as my dad and I camped in Suances about four years ago and there are clubs along the sea front, which stay open until the early hours of the morning.

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The amazing ice cream!

Overall the weather was a bit of a mixbag in Spain. There were four days when we had lovely sunshine from which I’ve managed to catch a decent tan, but we also had a lot of rain. It rained all day Wednesday, so my mum and I had a day in at the house while the others, including Barney, went fishing! It was quite funny leaving Spain this morning in the pouring rain and a thunderstorm, while the weather was nice when we landed in England.

I’ve had a relaxing week and I’ve browned off nicely- I can’t wait to make my colleagues jealous at work tomorrow! I could’ve easily stayed with my dad and his friend though, and continued touring through Spain and France with them. I’ve mentioned previously that I normally go away with my dad for a period of at least four weeks every summer, but since I’m writing up a dissertation, I decided against it.

The next month and a half means I really need to get down to business with my dissertation; I have at least 10,000 more words to go! So if I’m not blogging on a regular basis, you all know why.

 

Happy reading and blogging!

Many thanks,
Clare Bear

My first trip to Germany

After successfully completing the Race for Life, I had a quick meal out with my parents to celebrate and then I got the train down to Hertfordshire to stay at my boyfriend’s house for the night. We had a 6am plane to catch from Luton Airport, its destination: Berlin!

My boyfriend and I were deciding where to go on our first holiday together and we were originally looking to go somewhere in the UK. We wanted to go on a city break, so we were looking at places we’d never been to before. Glasgow was our decided destination, until we realised that for the same price, we could go to Berlin. So Berlin it was!

My boyfriend had been to Berlin before, but he was happy to go again, and it was quite nice to have someone who knew their way around the city and main attractions.

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Brandenburg Gate

We landed at Schoenefeld Airport and before making our way to the hotel, we picked up a travel card for 28.70 euros each. Known as the Berlin WelcomeCard, we both received a handy guide book, maps and a ticket which was valid for trains (S-Bahn), trams and buses for zones A, B and C, and lasted for 72 hours from validation. This ticket also entitled us to discounts in shops, restaurants and tourist attractions- it was very handy!

The hotel we stayed in was only 15 minutes away from Alexanderplatz via tram, and there were several trams which we could get, so we didn’t have to wait for long at all. I must admit, I much prefer the transport system and links in Berlin compared to London. Every form of transport ran on time, they were all very efficient and even though it was often very busy like it gets in London, it didn’t feel as hectic as London; the atmosphere was much more relaxed.

Alexanderplatz was the first tourist attraction we visited, one of the main parts of Berlin. You can see the World Clock, the Town Hall, but what stands out most is the iconic TV tower. We went up the tower on our final night and enjoyed a Sex on the Beach cocktail, while looking at the stunning views of Berlin from 207 metres high!

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Fernsehturm Berlin

One part of Berlin which I really admired was Hackescher Markt, a square located close to Alexanderplatz which has restaurants and shops, and a lovely shopping area with small boutique shops. We also found where the Anne Frank Museum is, down a sort of alleyway where there is a lot of creative graffiti covering the buildings.

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An alleyway around Hackescher Markt

The hottest day of our city break was spent at Berlin zoo, which is one of the best in the world (this is not an overstatement!). I saw many animals I had never seen at a zoo before, including hippos, ostriches, panthers, jaguars and a grizzly bear. Unfortunately I did not get to see any polar bears, but it was 31 degrees, so I don’t blame them for staying inside where it’s cool! There is also an aquarium, which was pretty cool with other creatures such as insects and amphibians.

I love visiting churches and cathedrals, so my boyfriend and I went into two cathedrals. The first one we visited was close to the zoo, and is called the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The majority of it was bombed during the Second World War, but the part of it which remains is like a small museum, and there is a new modern church beside it.

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The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

I was greatly amazed by Berliner Dom, which is located on Museum Island. This stunning cathedral was interesting to discover, and it was really cool to walk around the outside walkway around the dome at the top of the cathedral!

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Berliner Dom

It was fascinating to see parts of the Berlin wall around the city, in particular the East Side Gallery. There seems to be a lot of graffiti around Berlin, as I mentioned before, but it seems to be celebrated. There was some stunning graffiti/artwork on the East Side Gallery.

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Gorgeous artwork at the East Side Gallery

My boyfriend and I made our own marks on part of the wall.

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My mark on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery

If you ever wonder which side of Berlin you are in, you only need to look at the pedestrian traffic lights. Even though Berlin is no longer divided into East and West by the wall, the traffic lights indicate whether you are in the former West or East side of Berlin. The Ampelmannchen is a man wearing a hat, and means little traffic light man, which is on the pedestrian traffic lights in the East side of Berlin, while the West side of Berlin has the standard looking green and red man.

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Several Ampelmannchen in a tourist shop

It really surprised me how close some of the attractions were together, such as Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie, and Bradenburg Gate and the Jewish Memorial. We did end up going back close to attractions we had previously visited, but that wasn’t a problem.

I am now in love with Currywurst after trying it on our first day! Currywurst is a sliced sausage in a sauce which I would describe as BBQ flavoured with a hint of curry. I had it twice while I was in Berlin, and will definitely have it again when I hope to visit Germany again at some point in the future.

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Yummy Currywurst

On the way back to the airport to return to the UK, we made a stop at a train station called Plänterwald. It turned out that about 20 minutes away from the station, there was an abandoned theme park. My boyfriend wanted to see this last time he went to Berlin, so he was thrilled that we got to have an explore.

We walked around the perimeter of the park, which had a green fence going all around it and had warning signs not to go in. We could see a few rides, such as a log flume and a merry go round. The creepiest part of the abandoned theme park though was the ferris wheel, which was still moving! I think it was the wind which was making it move, and it made screeching noises- it felt like being at the movie set of a horror film! Seeing an abandoned theme park is not something you do everyday, so it was pretty cool to see it.

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The creepy ferris wheel at the abandoned theme park

My boyfriend and I had three fun packed days of exploring the fantastic city of Berlin. I’d love to go back again, or try somewhere like Munich. I’d definitely like to go on another city break in the near future!

 

Happy reading and blogging!

Many thanks,

Clare Bear