Juliano and Angelita with the ruins of Corfe Castle in the background

I relish being a tourist in my own backyard and showing off some of my favourite hangouts to visitors. With my sister and brother-in-law visiting from Brazil, I got a chance to give the newly-wed couple a little dose of Dorset and a quick dash across the border into Wiltshire to visit neolithic Stonehenge.

If you have been following this blog, you know that my sister Angelita and her husband Juliano chose Europe as their honeymoon getaway. On my previous posts I wrote about how my other sister Virginia and I gatecrashed their honeymoon and accompanied them to Paris and Amsterdam. On our return from Continental Europe to England we did not lose anytime to get in my car and drive  South from London, minus our sister Virginia who had to go back to work the very next day. We arrived at my home in Dorset in the early evening where my husband Brian had cooked us a nice dinner.

Dorset is a County of great beauty. Situated on the South coast of England, it has a breathtaking coastline, golden beaches with sea carved bays and towering chalk white cliffs, and numerous unspoiled little rural villages set against rolling countryside hills. The difficulty is to decide were to start exploring? With a huge checklist of charming places on offer we decided to start at the medieval village of Corfe Castle.

Corfe Castle, Corfe Castle Village – Dorset

A medieval village, with a thousand years old Castle of the same name dominating the landscape. The Castle, in its thousand year history has been a Saxon stronghold, a Norman Fortress, a Royal palace and lastly just a home owned by the Bankes family. Now only the ruins remain after it was besieged by Cromwellian forces during the civil war. I have always loved taking my visitors to explore this little village that looks like it is lost in a medieval time-warp. Everyone enjoys hearing about the many tales of treachery and treason that unfolded here in this little corner of Dorset. We also stopped for an obligatory cream tea with lovely views of the Castle ruins…of course.

How about this view for a cream tea?

The ruins of Corfe Castle towers over Corfe Castle village

Angelita and Juliano by the oldest Pub in Corfe Castle village

Swanage – Durlston Country Park in Dorset

Situated up on a hill above the sea town of Swanage, this 280 acre park and nature reserve is home to some impressive limestone clifftop trails, surrounded by ancient meadows, a diverse wildlife combined with a fascinating geology and history.  We walked the clifftop trail towards the “Great Globe”, one of the largest stone spheres in the world it was built in 1886/87 entirely of local stone it weighs about 40 tonnes and is 3 metres (10 ft) in diameter.

Angelita and Juliano by the “Great Globe”, Durlston Castle in the top left.

There are various trails to choose from with a variety of landscapes, but we decided for  the clifftop trail, which although a little fresh with a gentle sea breeze reminding us that Autumn is here, it was actually very pleasantly sunny. We followed the well marked path that takes you to the edge of a very rugged coast with some scary drops down into the cold waters of the English Channel. We stopped for a rest and sat on the grass to admire the views from the cliff top. In the distance we could see the Isle of Wight to one side and the Swanage Lighthouse  which was built in 1880, on the clifftop at Anvil Point just in front of where we were sitting. A perfect place for a break and a drink of chimarrão (also known as mate) which we brought with us,  plus a flask of boiling water. It is served hot and it tastes a bit like green tea,  very traditional of our State of RS in the South of Brazil.

A drink of chimarrão

The cliff top walk is not particularly hard, although there is one steepish climb towards the Light House.

Lighthouse at Durlston Country Park in Swanage with some friendly cows in the foreground

We ended our walk with a wholesome lunch at “Durlston Castle”. This Victorian building is not a real castle, but rather intended as a restaurant built by George Burt in 1887 in the grounds of Durlston Country Park for the visitors of his estate, it has sweeping views of the eroding cliffs of Swanage bay. The castle has been extensively restored and the work completed in 2011, it is now also a visitor centre and a hub of all the activities going on in this area. The visitor centre always holds interesting exhibitions including some from local artists.

Views from the tower of “Durlston Castle”

Square and Compass at Worth Matravers

A short car ride from Swanage, the Square and Compass is a charming old pub situated in a beautiful location overlooking a valley. There are sea views from the terrace tables and  that runs down to join the South West Coastal Path at the popular ledges of Winspit. This charming pub is a gem of a place. It has been in the same family for more than a hundred years, but the building itself began life many centuries ago as a pair of cottages. In 1776 it became an alehouse owned by a Wareham brewer. These days it sells simple local food, pasties, pies, locally produced ales and cider, it is a no frills place and the food is served on paper plates via a hatch on the wall in the same way that it has been for many generation’s. Quirky and full of character it is the stomping grounds of local artists and musicians as well its faithful regulars like us who have been coming here for years. After a delicious, warm pastie we walked down the valley towards the Winspit  quarry. The old quarry in its hey days has produced stones for many of the London buildings, but it is no longer in use as it was closed down in 1940 during World War II was used as a site for naval and air defences. In more recent years it has been used as film location for British TV program ” Doctor Who” in the episode ” The Underwater Menace”, also as the planet “Skaro” in the serial “Destiny of the Daleks” and in 2012 the Disney film ” John Carter” for the scene location of the “Orkney Dig”.

Square and Compass

Inside it is quirky, cosy and full of character

Juliano and Angelita at Winspit Quarry

Stonehenge – Wiltshire 

Tearing ourselves away from beautiful Dorset just for one day, our exploring took us across the border into Wiltshire for a quick road trip to Stonehenge and a walk in the footsteps of our Neolithic ancestors. Perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the UK, it is also one of the Wonders of the World. There are many theories and stories about the significance of Stonehenge, the most generally accepted interpretation is that this intriguing stone circle is that of a prehistoric temple aligned with the movements of the sun. The very large standing stones are local sandstone  but the smaller ones, known as “bluestones”, come from the Preseli hills in Wales Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. I first visited this monument in 1988 on a motorbike road trip with my boyfriend Brian (now my husband) and we parked the bike nearby and walked around getting very close to the stones. Today visitors are not allowed to get so close and certainly not allowed to touch the stones. But you are able to walk around the monument from a short distance away and take as many photos as you wish…we certainly did.

The celebrations of the Summer and Winter Solstice here can also be great fun, my daughter Chloe has been here with friends during the Summer Solstice and loved it.

Stonehenge

Honeymooners at Stonehenge

Visitor Centre at Stonehenge

Salisbury Cathedral – Wiltshire 

Just about 8 miles from Stonehenge one of Britain’s finest 13th Century Gothic Cathedral, stands proudly with its tall tower and spire in the city of Salisbury, one of Britain’s quintessential Medieval cities. Inside the Cathedral visitors can also see the best preserved Magna Carta (1215) and thought to be the oldest working Medieval Clock. We stopped by for a visit before heading home to Dorset.

Salisbury Cathedral

Exhibition of Magna Carta

Lulworth Cove And Durdle Door – Dorset

We are not quite done with exploring Dorset yet, another day and lots more to see, and it was great that my daughter Chloe joined us for a coastal walking trail from the charming fishing village of Lulworth Cove to beautiful Durdle Door. Chloe is currently living at home with us and doing her Pharmacy Pre- Registration year here in Dorset, it has been a very tough year for her with very little free time to have fun.

Lulworth Cove

Angelita braving the steep climb towards Durdle Door

Descent down to the beach and Durdle Door

Durdle Door

Picnic with Angelita, Juliano and Chloe on the pebbly beach of Durdle Door

Man-of-War Bay and the cliff top trail we walked on

Poole Harbour and Sandbanks

We can catch glimpses of Poole Habour from our home and it is only a short drive away to the shores one of the largest natural harbours in the world. The harbour is the estuary of several rivers, and is extremely shallow with an average depth of 48 cm, therefore larger boats tend to sail down its main dredged channel that cuts through it. Sandbanks is a small peninsula crossing the mouth of Poole Harbour. Real estate here comes at a premium, being the 4th highest land value in the world it is home to some of the UK rich and famous. It has the highest concentration of expensive properties outside London. The shallow waters of the harbour is a mecca for water sports enthusiasts, in particular windsurfing, kite surfing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. We spent some time here enjoying the white sandy beach and walking along the harbour side promenade. Afterwards we took the short ferry ride across to Studland beach and towards the Purbeck hills.

Sandbanks, Poole Habour

Poole Harbour with a view of Brownsea Island on the right

 

Poole harbour has many small islands dotted around, the largest of which is Brownsea Island which was the location of an experimental camp in 1907 by Robert Badden-Powell to test out his scouting ideas which then led to the formation of the Scout movement in 1908. The Island hosts every Summer a William Shakespeare play in its open air theatre and people gather with a pre- show picnic on the grounds of a protected nature reserve where peacocks and red squirrels are often spotted frolicking around. We have been a  few times with friends and have thoroughly enjoyed it.

The week of exploring was nearly over when Virginia arrived to take the newly weds back to London and to enjoy their final honeymoon days in the English capital. We had spent two wonderful weeks together travelling to Paris, Amsterdam and finishing off in the South of England.

Goodbyes are never easy…better start planing our next get together.

 

 

 

Built on 11 million wooden poles (houten palen) and more than 100 km of canals”…with open mouths we listened to our tour guide “Michael” enthusiastically informing us of how Amsterdam is a city built on a swamp. We chose to do a free walking tour on our first full day exploring the Dutch capital as a way of getting our bearings. Our guided tour started in front of the National Monument in Dam Square where a group of people quickly gathered around Michael, an American guy with an interesting hat and an orange umbrella with a sign saying “free walking tour”. We spent about 2 hrs following him around and learning a great deal about the history and other titbits about this intriguing city.

Our tour guide was an American called Michael

Many of Amsterdam’s buildings and structures are supported by 15 to 20 meter long wood poles that sink through the mud and are fixed in a sandy layer that is about 11 meters deep. The Central Station, for example is supported by about 9,000 wooden poles. Amsterdam, also known as the Venice of the North is about one meter below sea level, with the highest point in the city being about seventeen meters above sea level. But there are very few high points, making it a very flat city that is great for bicycles, and indeed bicycles rule supreme as the favourite mode of transport around the city. Crossing the road in Amsterdam is a major adventure, since you not only watch out for cars but also trams and in particular bicycles that come fast and furious from every direction.

Michael explained that there is less of a working mentality in Amsterdam; usually people work less hours than in the rest of Europe and there is plenty of part time work opportunities. The Dutch are warm, friendly, have a very open and tolerant view of things and life in general. I like the idea of working less and having a better work/life balance, I think I should consider a move to Holland very soon.

We followed our tour guide Michael through a small passageway into a small central green area surrounded by well maintained and pristine looking old houses. The Begijnhof, is a collection of houses that belong to members of a Catholic sisterhood founded in the 14th century. The sisters live here as nuns, but without the vows and with the right to return to a secular world.

Begijnhof

Although no longer the small fishing village of centuries ago, Amsterdam does feel quite compact and intimate with low buildings, little squares and narrow cobbled streets. With so many canals there are also plenty of bridges, with an estimated 80 bridges just around the city centre and more than 1,200 bridges in all of Amsterdam. We certainly enjoyed crossing quite few of them whist stopping to admire the canal boats floating by.  In fact wandering along the many canal’s is an essential part of any exploring itinerary. The Seventeenth Century canal ring area inside the Singelgracht became part of the UNESCO world heritage list in 2010.

Canal Cruise

The canal’s were created in the 17th century to protect Amsterdam from the rising sea levels. To float along the UNESCO protected canal belt in a guided boat tour is a must when visiting this city.

Canal cruise

Virginia enjoying the canal cruise

House boats along the Amsterdam canal’s

A canal cruise is a very relaxing way of seeing the city from a different perspective and I strongly recommend it. We chose a canal cruise that departures from the little marina in front of the Central Station, courtesy of our walking tour guide Michael who recommended it and provided us with a discount voucher. It was a medium size boat that also provided us with an audio guide that can be listened to in whatever language you choose from a selection menu. The boat floats by some of the main highlights of Amsterdam.  We also saw some lovely house boats along the canals and learned that there are more than 2,500 house boats in Amsterdam occupied by residents, with some also available to rent. I did look into renting one for us, but I could not find a 2 bedroom one in our price range.

The Jordaan Area

We visited this neighbourhood after our scenic canal cruise and explored its maze like streets and got lost in a labyrinth of canals and little cobbled streets. Not far from the city centre, the Jordaan  was once a working class district that was home to refugees, immigrants and struggling artists including the painter Rembrandt Van Rijn, who moved here because he could no longer afford the high rent in the city centre. The area was know for its poor living conditions with small houses that were crammed full with large families. The slum-like living conditions hit a very low point during World War II. After the war a proposal to destroy the area completely and build new apartment buildings was turned down by passionate residents who wanted to preserve the history and character of the area. A restoration project started in the 1970s with a lot of investment turning it into one of the most desirable and best loved neighbourhoods in the city.

In our wanderings we found a taste of Brazil, a little shop called Sweet Bob Amsterdam selling handmade ” brigadeiros” – a small chocolate sweet very typical of Brazil, although they have changed the recipe a little and spiced things up by adding some other interesting flavours to the original mostly chocolate one. We loved it and bought a box of a variety of flavours to take home.

Brigadeiro, a taste of Brazil in Amsterdam

Cheese is big business in the Netherlands , there is even a cheese museum in Amsterdam, but although we did not visit the museum we did indulge in sampling their cheese at one of the many “kaas” shops around the city where shelves are stuffed full with delicious cheeses such as gouda, geiterkaas, and maasdammer.

Cheese is big business here

After a lot of wandering around we stopped for a rest, drinks and snacks at a Dutch Pub and ordered a selection of “Bitterballen”, deep fried crispy meatballs, although our choice was mostly vegetarian with flavours such as beetroot, spinach, etc., that went down a treat.

Dutch Pub

The end of our first full day in Amsterdam was fast approaching and the sun was setting as we walked towards “De wallen”, also know as the infamous “Red Light District (RLD)”. The oldest area in the city it is full of historic buildings, including a beautiful fourteen century Gothic old Church (Oude Kerk) .

Beautiful canals in the Red Light District of Amsterdam

The red-lit brothel windows leave nothing to the imagination.  Prostitution is legal in Holland and since October 2000 window ladies of the night can openly advertise their trade. However, since 2007 the city is trying to shake off its hedonistic image and measures have been put in place to reduce the number of red-light windows.

Amsterdam is a city with the highest museum density in the world, so it is not surprising to find the Erotic Museum or the Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum here in the  RLD. But we happily refrained from visiting and instead quick-stepped towards the tantalising cooking smells of the next door neighbourhood of China Town.

Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum

It was well past our bed time when we called it a night and caught a tram to our AirBnB stay in Javaplein. Our rented apartment was lovely and our host “Bart” could not have been more helpful, giving us all the maps and information we could possibly need for our memorable stay. He lived in the same building, on the apartment above ours and therefore it was easy to contact him if needed. The stairs up to our apartment were very narrow and steep and on our arrival in Amsterdam the day before, we were glad to have Bart helping us to carry our bags up to the first floor since the building did not have a lift, a common feature of the narrow houses of Amsterdam.

Saturday 8th of October 2016 and our last full day in the Dutch capital, Virginia and I stayed home and had a longer lay in followed by a leisurely breakfast, whilst Angelita and Juliano caught an early tram to the city centre. They had been booked on the 9:30 am slot at the Anne Frank’s House. We arranged that we would meet up with them later since both Virginia and I had already visited it on previous trips to Amsterdam. I in fact have visited it on two occasion’s; first time in 2007 with my friend Walkiria, our girly trip to Amsterdam was a special birthday celebration for her and then again in 2009 with my husband Brian, a getaway without our children who stayed with the grandparents in Scotland.

The annex at the Prinsengracht House, where Anne Frank hid with her parents, sister, and members of another Jewish family for two years in order to escape the Nazi’s prosecution during the second world war,  has been well preserved and gives a grim glimpse into what life was like for them. Anne Frank wrote a detailed account into her diary of their everyday lives in the annex. As a 13 year old girl, Anne dreamt of being a writer, her dream made true by her father,  who published her diary years later once the war had ended. I read her diary many years ago when I was a teenager living in Brazil, never imagining that one day I would visit the very house she so vividly described during her tragically short life.

Virginia and I met up with Angelita and Juliano at a nearby cafe later on in the morning and I we were not surprised to find Angelita in tears and so visibly moved by what she had just experienced inside Anne Frank’s house. I would recommend a visit to Anne Frank’s House to anyone coming to Amsterdam, just make sure you book your ticket on line in advance to avoid the long queues.

To cheer ourselves up we decided to check out one of our AirBnB host’s recommendation and go for a meal at the Pllek Cafe. We walked towards the North of Amsterdam Central Station to catch the short free GVB ferry ride across the water to the NDSM wharf, a former shipyard located on the banks of the River IJ. A very pleasant ferry ride and a chance to see some of the modern buildings and quirky architecture such as the buildings made of shipping containers that are found here in this post- industrial area.

Free ferry ride

 

 

Modern Amsterdam, Queen Beatrix, home to the EYE National Film Institute

Architecture Innovation

NDSM Wharf, buildings made of shipping containers

The NDSM has blossomed into an enormous cultural and hip hotspot with a variety of bars and restaurants. Pllek has been constructed from old shipping containers, its interior has a maritime theme that makes the most of recycled materials. It is perfectly located with amazing river views. We absolutely loved the welcome and relaxed atmosphere, delicious food and being able to sit outside and enjoy the panoramic views.

Outside table of Pllek Cafe

With very full bellies we walked back to the ferry terminal and waited few minutes to catch another free ferry ride back to Amsterdam Central Station where it docks behind the station.

We thought of doing the Heineken Experience,  but gave up after seeing the huge queue outside the museum. We opted instead to have a coffee at another outdoor cafe and finished our day chatting and reminiscing about our week that had started with 4 days in Paris (see previous post) and continued with the last 3 days in Amsterdam.

Early on the Sunday morning we retraced our journey by catching a train from Amsterdam Central Station to Paris Gare-Du -Nord and then onto London St. Pancras.

We arrived back in London later in the afternoon and got on the London Underground bound for my sister Virginia’s house. Although it was the end of our week in continental Europe as the chaperone sisters to our honeymoon couple, Angelita and Juliano, the adventure continued as I drove them home with me to Dorset for another week of exploring and sightseeing.

Have you been to Amsterdam? What were the highlights for you? 

 

 

 

 

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So happy our sister Angelita and her groom Juliano chose to come to Europe for their honeymoon, following their recent wedding in Brazil.

We are sisters that love spending time together, but we live many miles apart and therefore we grab every opportunity for a get-together.  Although Virginia and I were not surprised that our baby sister chose to visit us in England to kick off her honeymoon, we were delighted ( if with a little trepidation)  that she invited us to come to Paris and Amsterdam with them for the next leg of their honeymoon.

Who could possibly refuse Paris?

Angelita and Juliano had already been in London for a few days when together we caught the early Euro-train from St. Pancras, in central London to Gare Du Nord, in the North of Paris. A very comfortable, fast train journey that took just over two hours to deliver us into the heart of the French Capital. From Gare Du Nord we jumped into the underground train to St-Germian-des-Prés, where we had rented an AirBnB apartment for our 4 nights stay in Paris, from Sunday 2nd of October to Thursday 6th of October/2016 .

With no time to lose and wanting to take full advantage of a free museum entrance ( many museums and sites are free in France on the first Sunday of every month; although some like the Louvre are free only during winter months), we walked towards the Louvre. Only a few minutes from our apartment, and after a quick bite to eat at a nearby outdoor cafe we joined the queue of tourists at the main glass pyramid entrance to explore one of the largest museums in the world. To see it all in an afternoon would be simply impossible, so we decided to see some of the highlights such as the “Venus de Milo “,  Greek Sculptures, Italian paintings and of course the Mona Lisa.

Louvre

Virginia and Angelita at the pyramid entrance of the Louvre

My sister Virginia, who is a manager at a London museum was in her element, pointing out to us how museums showcase their collections in a way that gives the tourist a great experience, although she was not very impressed with how some of the information was laid out and in particularly disliked the over commercialism and designer brands at the Louvre’s underground exit and mall.

Venus de Milo

But the Louvre does deliver a great experience; even if you are not a great art lover you can’t fail to be moved by such exquisite sculptures carved on marble featuring naked human bodies in all their glory. Sculptures of gods, athletes, ordinary people in motion, showing the intricate folds of their robes draping down so naturally and capturing every perfect movement.

 

People often say that they are disappointed with the Mona Lisa, a lot smaller than expected and hidden behind a pane of glass. I had already seen it on a previous visit, many years ago and already knew what to expect, but what is most incredible is that in spite of all,  people are fascinated by her and the room was so packed that it was hard to get close and have a good look at her. You could certainly not linger there for long to examine her enigmatic smile without being pushed along by the mob.

Mona Lisa

Crowded room to see the enigmatic Mona Lisa

We left the Louvre with enough energy in us…just… and thought that we could also have a look around the Pompidu Centre, but unfortunately the huge queue put as off and so we decided to sit at a coffee shop nearby and soak up the atmosphere of Le Marais neighbourhood.

This popular area has a unique combination of trendy restaurants, cool and hip boutiques with the latest fashion, art galleries galore and yet has the Medieval feel of old Paris with its labyrinth of cobblestones alleys. It has a very different feel from the rest of Paris where grand avenues and large squares prevail. Le Marais is also the hub of Paris gay community since the 1980’s. The nucleus of Jewish life in Paris, it also has a large Chinese community.

From the Marais  we decided to finish the day with a lovely sunset over the river on one of the many beautiful bridges that crosses the River Seine.

We had beautifully sunny days to explore Paris and we made the most of it by walking everywhere, stopping for coffee and snacks at outdoor terrace cafes and going for long strolls by the river Seine. Our apartment was perfectly located and made it easy to explore by foot, although we did also use the bus and underground on few occasions, when we had no energy left to walk even one more step.

Here are some highlights of our rendezvous in Paris.

The Notre Dame, meaning Our Lady. 

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Notre Dame by the River Seine

Perfectly located by the River Seine at the Île de la Cité, it was only a couple of bridge crossings and a short walk from our apartment. There was no question that we wanted to visit this beautiful 850 years old Gothic Cathedral. Our Lady is French Gothic architecture at its best and as you approach it you will see it for the first time,  feel like you have seen it a million times before and of course you have, since it is among one of the most well known and photographed Catholic churches in the world. Immortalised by Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

Notre Dame

Notre-Dame Cathedral

It’s facade is ornate with intricately sculpted statues of the 28 Kings of Judah, stained glass windows, pointing towers, sinister looking gargoyles. It is impressive and it is free to enter, unless you want to climb up to its tower which will then cost you about 8.50 euros. It’s interior is also beautiful; from the entrance you look up to see the high central aisle lined with tall columns and dripping chandeliers, light floods through the striking stained glass windows. There are exhibits and lots to see inside, such as the statue of Joan of Arc all dressed in armour with hands together in a praying pose.

Sacré Cœur and Montmartre

Perched on a hill top in Montmartre, is the famous white Basilica of Sacré Cœur, created after the Franco-Prussian war as a symbol of hope. The style is a mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine, with multiple domes. It is possible to climb up the main dome, via 300 steps located outside the Basilica on the left side. The interior is peacefully illuminated with many candles with the striking Christ of the Sacred Heart ceiling mosaic as a main attraction.

Inside it has a demure and sombre atmosphere a striking contrast to the playful and joyous atmosphere outside the Basilica. People lounge on the grassy areas or sit on the steps leading up to the Basilica while listening to street musicians or watching the impromptu street performers.

 

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Sacré Cœur’

We spent quite some time here resting our tired legs and just enjoying the lively atmosphere. A young man kept us well entertained by his great ball skills whist climbing a lamppost, see below.

Don’t attempt this at home folks…

 

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Views of Paris from the steps leading up to Sacré Cœur

Hanging out on the steps of Sacré Cœur – a popular pastime

We left Sacré Cœur later in the afternoon and walked down towards the red windmill of Moulin Rouge, where the can-can girls have entertained many since it’s opening in 1889. During the La Belle Époque , Toulouse-Lautrec used to be a regular here, with an absinthe in one hand and a sketch pad in the other he produced some beautiful drawings of the can-can dancers. The Moulin Rouge also played host to great musicians and notable artists that lived and worked in the area around Montmatre such as Edith Piaf, Ginger Rogers, Village People (yes really), Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry Matisse and so many others. We could only imagine how people would have been drawn to the often a little risque shows that went on inside the red mill. We wished that we could have seen a show but unfortunately we had not booked tickets and therefore it will be something to do next time we came to Paris.

The famous Moulin Rouge

 

Eiffel Tower

Named after it’s creator Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), it is one of the most recognised structures in the world. Construction started in 1887 and finished in 1889, just in time to became the entrance to the 1889 World Fair and the celebration of France’s 100 years since the French Revolution. Many artists and intellectuals have criticised its design, but no one can argue that it has defied its critics and it has stood the test of time surviving the many futile attempts to take it down and it has became a much loved cultural icon.

Eiffel Tower

In my humble opinion no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to this iconic site, even if it is just to say “I have been there ” type of experience. But surely the millions of people, who visit the tower every year can’t be wrong …can they?

For us it was a lot more than “tick it off the list” type of experience and it was the highlight of our trip to Paris.

We walked to the tower from our Airbnb apartment in St-Germian-des-Prés soon after our wholesome breakfast. We had already decided that we were going to climb the stairs up to level 2 and I am so glad we did, since it was not particularly difficult and it gave us a different perspective from just taking the elevator up.

There were not many people choosing this option, making it even more exciting for us. There was no queuing to go up via the stairs, there was no need to book ahead and we only paid 7 euros….what could possibly go wrong? It was 360 steps to the first level and another 360 to the second level. The staircase is enclosed with a wire cage, so for my sister Angelita, who is a little scared of heights,  that was very reassuring. Once on the first level we explored the shops and exhibits before continuing to climb to the second level.

Having a rest on the way up to first level

From the second level it was easy to reach the summit (Le Sommet) by elevator, there was hardly any queuing for the summit on the day we visited but Virginia and I decided to let the happy honeymoon couple experience the summit on their romantic own. So we grabbed a hot drink and sat down to admire the beautiful views of a clear, sunny day over beautiful Paris – worth every step of the climb.

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View of Paris from level 2 of the Eiffel Tower, with Sacre-Coeur in the far distance

All that walking and climbing left us with a ravenous appetite and there is no better place for an alfresco picnic than Parc du Champ de Mars, the green grassy area stretching South of the tower. We chose to sit on the grass with the Eiffel Tower watching over us. From here the tower does look massive, and easy to believe it was once the worlds tallest structure.

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Picnic by Eiffel Tower – complete with delicious French baguette!

Eiffel Tower…what a beauty!

River Seine cruise

What can be more romantic than a river cruise? Soon after our picnic lunch and obligatory pictures around the Eiffel Tower we walked just few yards towards the river and right in front of the Eiffel Tower we boarded our cruise boat with Bateaux Parisiens (about 14 Euros) to enjoy a slow and very scenic cruise along the River Seine. We sat on the top deck to admire Paris from a whole new perspective, following along the magnificent River Seine, navigating through the heart of the city. It was fresh sitting outside on the top deck but very sunny giving us a clear view of the centuries-old architecture of the buildings and bridges that line the shores of this iconic river .

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Angelita and I cruising by Notre-Dame. Do we look happy? We were!

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The romance of a river cruise..Angelita and Juliano (Chaperones out of shot!)

Arc de Triomphe

Nothing could stop us now… energised by the fresh air on our river cruise we walked from the Eiffel tower towards the Arc de Triomphe, which marks the start of the elegant Parisian Grand Boulevard of Champs – Elysee’s.

The Arc is an imposing and magnificent structure commissioned by Napoleon himself to commemorate his war victory, and later on it was the stage for his funeral. No doubt that many historic events have unfolded here and possibly many yet to unfold?

It is possible to ascend the Arc via the 284 steps inside the north pillar, but after climbing the Eiffel Tower earlier on in the day, we did not feel like doing any more climbing. I am sure the views would have been fabulous, but it will have to go on the ever growing list of things to do next time we come to Paris.

We paid our respects at the Tomb of the “Unknown Soldier” before walking down Champs- Elysee’s towards the Place de la Concorde, the city’s largest square.

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Arc-De- Triumph

Avenue Champs-Elysee’s

Paris’ grand boulevard, the glamorous Champs- Elysee’s is a place to see and be seen,  a stroll down this tree lined avenue is a must, in particular if you are into all the stylish designer shops, elegant cafes and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Channel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo. Although for us it was just a case of window shopping and people watching, there is no better place for it. There are people from all over the world here, pounding the wide pavement and strutting along this lively avenue .

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Champs-Elysee’s

We carried on down towards the Obelisk of Luxor, the centre piece of Place de la Concorde, the spot where Louis the XVI was beheaded.

Obelisk of Luxor

From the Obelisk we started to  walk towards home,  past the Louvre which was bathed in the soft glow of a sun setting light in the late afternoon. We felt exhausted but happy, it was altogether a very special day, not only because of all the exiting things we had seen and done but also because  it was Angelita’s Birthday, 4th of October. Back at the apartment we rested for few hours before changing into our glad rags and stepping out into the Parisian night for a special dinner to celebrate Angelita’s Birthday. We chose a restaurant in the Quarter Latin and enjoyed a lovely meal and a glass (or two) of French wine . The perfect way to end our perfect day.

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The Louvre looking beautiful in the evening light

During our stay in Paris we also visited some places that might not have been top of the wish list of most people visiting the city of light.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

This city of the dead is surrounded by a tall wall, with mostly car free roads. Lined with trees,  it has an airy and melancholic feel. The hauntingly beautiful monuments and sculptures a constant reminder that this is the place of rest of so many of Paris’s most illustrious residents such as Chopin and Oscar Wild and many others.

We followed a guided small group for a little while and it took us to the tomb of Jim Morrison (1943-1971), an American, singer of the rock band The Doors. He came to Paris to clean up his act, but his plan did not work as the lure of alcohol, drugs, and the Rock and Roll lifestyle caught up with him and he died in his bathtub far too soon, at the age of only 27 (does this scene sounds familiar?).  His tomb is apparently one of the most visited at this cemetery.

I also wanted to visit the tomb of Edith Piaf (1915-1963), since I have always loved her voice and music,  in particular the song ” Non, je ne regrette rien” ( No, I don’t regret anything).

But perhaps most haunting was the grave of a 21 year old beautiful girl, killed very recently on the 13th of November 2015 in the horrific terrorist attack of the Bataclan concert hall.  It was heart-wrenching to see her young smile and think of an innocent life so abruptly and violently ended.

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Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The Shoah Memorial and the Holocaust Center

The Shoah Memorial retraces the history of French Jews deported from France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1944. There are 76, 000 names engraved in the wall of names, these are the names of the French Jews who did not return home. The names are listed alphabetically by year in which they were deported.

The Shoah memorial was inaugurated on 27th of January 2005 by the French President Chirac, on the day of commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust and for the Prevention of Crimes Against Humanity. That year also marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Brave women who fought in WWII

 

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Some of the pictures of the missing Jews

 

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Does it sound familiar?

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Crypt of the Shoah Memorial

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Timeline of Anti-Antisemitism in Europe

Jardin du Luxembourg or Luxembourg Gardens

Paris has some beautiful gardens that combine open spaces with elegant fountains, beautiful statues among the flower beds and one that we were very keen to visit was the Luxembourg Gardens. Created by the widow of the French King Henry IV, Marie de Medici.

This 60 acre garden not only houses beautiful plants and manicured lawns but most importantly, rumour has it that it is the home of the French Secret Service…shhhhhhh!…don’t tell anyone. The garden today is owned by the French Senate, we saw few armed guards on duty.

We also saw joggers, people sitting out reading books, children playing, a group of people doing Tai Chi.

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Medici Fountain built in 1612 at the Luxembourg Gardens

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Tai Chi practice at Luxembourg Gardens

We took every opportunity to walk by the river and enjoy its picturesque setting, eating French crepes whilst relaxing in the sunshine. Since 2002 the banks of the river Seine are transformed every summer into an urban beach to cater for an avid riverside culture scene. We saw glimpses of it with some sand and grass areas that remained from what it must have been like during the summer months.

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Romance blossomed for our honeymoon couple.

 

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Afternoon walk by the river Seine

Paris did woo us, and the magic of Paris is not a myth, the most romantic city in the world is just…well… pure romance. Its reputation as the city of love was not wasted on our newly wedded travel companions. But for Virginia and I, the chaperone sisters, there was a lot of love to be found there also and Paris captured our hearts. We loved the cafe culture, incredible history, beautiful architecture, the lively atmosphere at the banks of the River Seine, the live music that we stumbled upon on street corners or over one of the many bridges across the river , the picturesque parks and gardens, the food, the language….the list is endless.

But far too soon it was “au revoir” to Paris as we caught an early train on Thursday, 6th of October/16 to Amsterdam, where we continued to chaperone our newly weds and explore the Dutch Capital – another long time favourite place of mine. Wonderful city, wonderful people.

Stay tuned for my next post and let me know in the comments if you have been to Paris? Was it love for you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Many of our favourite travel bloggers have been raving about the advantages of staying in rented AirBnB properties when travelling for short and also for longer stays, so we felt it was time to check it out for ourselves.

After joining the AirBnB site, giving our details and having few attempts at choosing a good photo of me and hubby (easier said than done, since some were too serious, others were too smiley, or too cheesy…)  and scouring available and suitable properties in the town of Seaton, we opted for a hill top property that had good reviews and looked rather old and charming. We sent the owners a request for a one night stay over the weekend of May 7th /8th 2016 and full of trepidation waited for their reply.

It was not long before we got their positive reply and started packing our bags for a weekend in East Devon, only 1:30 to 2 hrs away from our home in the South of England.

Since the weather forecast was for a dry day with spells of sunshine all throughout the weekend, we decided to travel there by motorbike, enjoying a taste of Dorset with some culinary stops along the way. Starting with  breakfast with beautiful views at Portland Bill, the Lobster Pot coffee shop and restaurant is conveniently located next to the Portland Bill Lighthouse.The Isle of Portland in the Southernmost point of the County of Dorset, England, is a limestone tied island, a barrier beach called Chesil Beach joins it to the mainland. The Bill has 3 lighthouse towers, see the main one below.

It was quite steep going up the hill and in particularly for me being in the back of the bike it did feel a little scary at times as we climbed higher and higher via some very narrow lanes and windy roads, but the views out to sea and beaches down below were getting better and better making it all very worthwhile.

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After exploring around the light house we continued our journey along the beautiful Dorset coast line, past Portesham a small village that I visit every month for work when I run a dietetic clinic at the extremely friendly GP Practice. The coastal road via Abbotsbury is very scenic with amazing views of Chesil Beach – this stretch of coast line became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001 due to its Jurassic Coast status and amazing geology that takes you back in time to 185 million years ago.

Our lunch stop was at the charming  Hive Beach Café  in Burton Bradstock where we indulged in some local sea food delights and a taste of their catch of the day. It is a very unpretentious place with top-notch sea food cooked to perfection; a gem of a place right on the beach.

 

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We tore ourselves away after a nap on the sand opposite the The Hive Beach Café  and then jumped back on the bike to continue our ride along the Dorset coast via another beautiful sea town … Lyme Regis nicknamed “The Pearl of Dorset”. The town has a harbour wall known as “The Cobb”, which features in the British writer’s Jane Austen‘s novel Persuasion, and in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, a novel by  another British writer  Mr. John Fowles, as well as the 1981 film of the same name which was partly filmed in Lyme Regis.

As per Wikipedia:

“The town is noted for fossils found on its beaches and in the cliffs which are part of the Heritage Coast—known commercially as the Jurassic Coast—a World Heritage Site stretching for 153 kilometres (95 mi), from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in the west, to Old Harry Rocks in the east. The coastal exposures provide a continuous sequence of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock formations, spanning approximately 185 million years of the Earth’s history. Localities along the Jurassic Coast include a large range of important fossil zones.

The Blue Lias rock is host to a multitude of remains from the early Jurassic, a time from which good fossil records are rare. Many remains are well preserved, including complete specimens of important species. Many of the earliest discoveries of dinosaur and other prehistoric reptile remains were made in the area around Lyme Regis, notably those discovered by Mary Anning (1799–1847). Significant finds include Ichthyosaur, Plesiosaur,Dimorphodon, Scelidosaurus (one of the first armoured dinosaurs) and Dapedium. The town holds an annual Mary Anning Day and Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. A fossil of the world’s largest moth was discovered in 1966 at Lyme Regis.”

We arrived in Seaton in mid afternoon and our Airbnb host waved us and our bike into their courtyard which had lots of space to park and securely leave the motorbike overnight until the next day.

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She was super friendly and invited us to join her, her husband, son and daughter-in- law for a cup of tea in their lovely garden overlooking the sea. We could not have felt more welcome and relaxed and after some chatting and getting to know them a little and find out about the local area and the history of their over 100 years old property, we were shown our room for the night. The room was spacious, it had facilities for making tea, coffee and cold drinks, and there was courtesy biscuits and some bottled water. We also had our own bathroom.

They recommended dinner for us at an old Pub by the river Axe an easy 2 miles walk from the house via the beach front promenade of Seaton. On the way to the Pub we explored Seaton, a small seaside town that dates back thousand of years to the Iron age. The Romans were also here and in 2013 builder Laurence Egerton, a metal detector enthusiast, unearthed the Seaton Down Hoard of copper-alloy coins. The hoard of about 22,000 Roman coins is believed to be one of the largest and best preserved 4th Century collections ever found in the UK.

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The next day was all about walking another stretch of the South West Coastal Path (we have being doing small sections of it recently) taking us from our host’s house in Seaton to the neighbouring little fishing village of Beer.

The route is not without its perils though, since nature takes its toll on the geologically unstable chalk cliffs and  landslides are common. In July 2012 after a prolonged period of heavy rain an 80 m long landslide of the cliffs adjacent to Beer took a big chunk of the old coastal path and so a diversion, to take the walkers inland along the new Beer Road ( B3172) had to be implemented. Our hosts told us how to avoid the dangerous area and where to pick up the safer path.

There were some steep parts at the start of the path, but plenty of gorgeous views across to Seaton Bay and the Axe River Valley, to reward our efforts along the way.

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We carried on along the path over the cliff top, with plenty of stops to take on the views until we started our descent to Beer beach and its charming fishing port. There are steep steps down through the Memorial Gardens with several benches and viewing terraces where one can get a good rest and relax taking in the beautiful views.

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We left for our walk early since we wanted to have breakfast at Beer and we were lucky to have had the most perfect crisp fresh, sunny morning with hardly anyone on the path… just us and nature with its peaceful silence interrupted only by the tweet of birds and the sound of our foot steps along the path. We found visiting this coastal town in the shoulder season, in this case May/2016, to be the perfect time, depending of course on the unpredictable British weather. Fewer tourists combined with the lower prices making it a great combination.

We later walked back the 2 miles, to our AirBnB house to collect our bike and  rode it back round to Beer where we parked the motorbike at the village car park and walked down to the sea front to find a yummy place for lunch. We did not have to walk far to find another charming old British Pub and enjoyed sitting in their garden with sea views and the traditional British plate of fish, chips and peas to polish it off….a fitting end to our weekend motorbike road trip.

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After our all fresco meal we rounded it off with a quick walk along the beach to help it down , then hopped on the bike for the run home and getting ready for the week ahead … refreshed and invigorated after a lovely break.

Our first AirBnB experience was a great success, our hosts were welcoming, friendly and helpful. They gave us the key to their home and left us to explore a new area at our own pace. The property was clean, spacious, comfortable and very charming.  The site is very easy to use once you subscribe to it. There are many great properties all over the world that vary from a room in someone’s house to a whole house or apartment. We have since stayed at another gorgeous AirBnB property in the Cotsworlds and have booked a stay at apartments in Lagos, Paris and Amsterdam.

Have you used AirBnB properties on your travels? What is your take on it? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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