Archive of ‘France’ category

Strasbourg Christmas market adventure 2017

The Strasbourg Christmas market is one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in France. Old Town becomes pedestrian only, shops and hotels decorate their facades and little wooden huts popup everywhere selling regional good and treats. The streets are filled with joyful people drinking hot wines. We were so excited to meet our friends from Luxembourg on the Sunday for drinks, shopping and carousel rides. 

We are here for the Strasbourg Christmas Market in France.

A few years back my Canadian friend Janna who lived in London told me about her yearly tradition of visiting a new European Christmas market. She and her boyfriend have travelled from Norway to Slovakia exploring these magical markets and with every one of their Facebook posts my jealousy grew. Inspired by my friends, Matt and I are starting off our Christmas season with a triple Christmas Market attack plan (we have some catching up to do). Step one, the famous Strasbourg Christmas Market. Step two, Baden-Baden Market spanning the grounds of the famous casino (November 27-28). Step three, Sofia’s German/Bulgarian Christmas Market where we will celebrate my birthday (35…seriously getting old!). These are photos taken with my phone in Strasbourg.

Shops, hotels and apartments decorate their facades with Christmas decorations which gives the whole town a storybook atmosphere. 

It’s been raining on and off. People bundle up…some even look like “boules mousse”.

The most amazing tree.

The tree matches my jacket. 

Hot red or white wines, hot apple juice and hot orange juice.

Gex, France. The cutest little town in the French alps.

Only 20 km from Geneva, Gex is an adorable tiny town in the Franch mountains.

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Our awesome apartment had a balcony and full kitchen.

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Oh, and horse neighbours.

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The horse in the back stuck his tongue out for the photo.

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Cool.

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I love pink!

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This pub was AMAZING! We went everyday for little wines.

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Affordable little wines.

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So much cheese.

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Scallops with a mustard crème fraiche sauce.

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Horse steak, grassy greens and carrots, a natural pairing.

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Having fun in Carcassonne!

Carcassonne has been amazing so far. The city has so much to do and see; there’s a castle on top of the hill, a fresh food market in the city square (40 meters from our apartment) 3 times a week selling great local goodies and there’s the Canal du Midi for boating, picnicking and general relaxation.

 

Mom’s not a big fan of “le selfie”.

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This couple dressed up for the occasion. (The “knight” is on the bridge).

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View from inside the medieval castle.

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Champagne? Why not!

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Ok, I’m not going to lie, there has been SOME drinking going on. This is “le liter of lunch wine”.

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The weather has been unseasonably windy and chilly.

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L’Oeil le resto cooks all their meat and potatoes on a wood burning oven in the center of the open concept restaurant. 

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Smart.

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Yes, that is 1.5 kilograms of big steak, small steak, tenderloin, sausage and duck breast…the baked potato is swimming in fresh cream and chives.

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I was the only one to finish my plate. The big burly women who worked there were very impressed.

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And the highlight of 2016, the lunch boat ride on the Canal du Midi!

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We drank local Rose, ate yummy food and enjoyed the scenery.

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WHAT!!!!!! I got to drive the boat!!! I jokingly asked if I could drive and next thing you know I was in control of the wheel. Apparently I did a fine job, the captain let me steer for over 10 minutes while he sipped his coffee and told me stories about the surrounding area. I have a new calling, I’m becoming a boat captain (just as long as it doesn’t go faster than 6 kilometers an hour)!   

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Saturday market. As today is our last full day in Carcassonne we wanted to celebrate by eating all the local produce available at the market. Steak tartare, cheeses, salads, asparagus, olives and macaron with fresh strawberries and cheese cake are on tonight’s menu.

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A few photos of Toulouse (sorry for the time stamps).

 

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Fantastic seafood dinner made with all the goodies we picked up at the Victor Hugo market.

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MY MOM!!! The funniest storyteller in the world…especially after a few wines.

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Yakitori lunch next door.

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Huge rodeo downtown. All the French people were line dancing in the rain.

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Snacks while we wait for the rain to stop.

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Sunday at Victor Hugo market.

Sunday in Toulouse, everyone is at the market drinking wine, slurping on fresh oysters and chomping on great breads topped with meats and cheese.

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Yes, France!

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Obviously we bought one of each at this stall.

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A quick 7.5 hour train ride to Toulouse.

Mom was very excited as it was her first time on a train…well, except for all those other times she’s been on a train.

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Eddie?

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Pre-train croissants.

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Gare Austerlitz.

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Our cool apartment in central Toulouse.

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Bachelor party.

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I wanted to talk shop about marriage.

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My lovely drinking buddies.

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This is the Kyle and Carrie story. The beginning.

Though we left Canada over two years ago I rarely feel home sick. Of course, I would do anything to have a roasted chicken dinner at Mom’s house with all my friends or I would trade anything for a session of all you can eat sushi in Vancouver, but in reality, I just don’t miss Canada that much. Does that sound a little harsh? Absolutely not, why would I miss home when all my favorite people come and play with me in Europe!

This story starts in Nice, France. After a fun time watching the F1 races in Monaco, Matt and I took it easy on the French Rivera while we waited for our Canadian friends Kyle and Carrie to arrive. The morning before their scheduled arrival Matt and I woke up in a hazy state (brought on after a night of cheap Rosé), slipped into our bathing suits and headed to the beach. As I was locking the door I could hear Matt gabbing loudly to someone, “oh boy, what story is he telling now?” I thought as I turn the key. It took me a second to register what I saw, Kyle and Carrie were standing on the sidewalk, a day early, ready to party! 

Hugs, screams and more hugs then we all went for a nice dip in the Mediterranean.

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This is us hanging out in Nice eating pizza.

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A quick visit to St Tropez.

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Parking in the right spots.

When you travel in a camper your parking spot can truly make or break your vacation time. Our Nice seaside location couldn’t be better.

1-The view. Mediterranean sea, rocky cliffs, cool boats, etc.

2-Water. There’s a public tap with drinking water only 10 meters away.

3-Showers. A local guy gave me the key card for the marina showers the second day we arrived.

4-There’s a beautiful storm drain close by ideal for pee pee dumping.

5-Local cafes and stores all around us for food purchasing and computer recharging.

6-And the best feature is right our our window, a seaside walkway  with hundreds of curious French locals who love to stop by to chat and pet the cats.  

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These little girls where so cute, they were just in love with the cats.

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We met a lovely woman named Nora and she explained the history behind all the huge villas nestled in the hills. Nora is full of life, fed us chocolates and made us giggle the whole time.

Two French couples stopped by to ask us a thousand questions about campervaning  as they plan on taking three years off work to start an adventure of their own.

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Last night after dark we went to the beach downstairs and sat with a group of young people. When I first asked to sit with them one of the girls said “ok but what do you want?”, I laughed and replied that we needed nothing but we wanted to sit with them because we liked their music. She snicker/smiled  and proceeded to tell me to stop drinking that awful pink vinegar (our one euro plastic jug of Rose) and poured us each a cup of proper Rose with a strong grapefruit flavor.

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The rest of the night was a blast,  they whipped  out a tiny BBQ and cooked us Merguez sausages and lamb chops, yes LAMB CHOPS. After eating we smoked mint Shisha and exchanged stories. I was talking a mile a minute in my best French while our new friends practiced their English with Matt.

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I have a feeling that the second we leave France  we will start to miss it.

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Is Nice the new Paris?

The French have the formula for great living completely figured out. Good food, lots of friends and socializing, great wine, naps in the middle of the day, more great wine, great relationships with their pets, amazing architecture, efficient public transport, laid back attitudes and heck, even a touch of arrogance here and there works well in this equation.

Nice is like a friendlier, more manageable version of Paris with the added bonus of the seaside.

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Seaside boardwalk.

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Check out the fountain/art installation. When it comes to life it gives the famous Bellagio fountain a run for its money.

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Pack like a pro. A quick trip turned long.

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September 17th to 22nd, a week long trip to Paris with my Mom. I packed a carry on sized bag with 4 dresses, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of jeggings, 3 tank tops, 6 shirts, 2 scarves, 2 belts, Pjs, undergarments, pantyhose, a blazer, a leather jacket, 1 pair of slip on shoes, 1 pair of knee high boots(flat), toiletries, cellphone, tablet with keyboard, plugs and paperwork. I wore the largest things on the flight and the rest fit in my tiny wheeled suitcase once all my clothes were squeezed in an airtight space bag. The bag weighed 9.5 kg, 0.5 kg under the maximum weight requirement, the perfect pack job if you ask me.

Thank god I packed so well. Once we arrived in Paris mom and I had to take a train, a metro and then walk 2.5 kilometers to the apartment she rented in the 3rd arrondissement. Our cute apartment was behind a beautiful big blue door in a hip area and up 6 flights of 100 year old steep wooden stairs. WORKOUT!

We spent 6 days of pure bliss planning our days around our meals instead of attractions. I took 200 pictures and walked at least 10 kilometers a day. To tell you the truth, Mom and I were so busy exploring everything that we didn’t even go the the Eiffel Tower!

Part two of the trip…we land in Sofia, Bulgaria. I go through customs and get asked to step aside, mom goes through customs without any problems and waits for me behind a glass wall. Long story short, I overstayed my time in Bulgaria and Matt and I neglected to do the required paperwork when we arrived a few months back (we honestly didn’t know, apparently Polish immigration laws are very different from Bulgarians laws) and now I cannot reenter Bulgaria. I sent my mom to Burgas to meet Matt while I had to jump on a plane to Athens and go to the Bulgarian Embassy to apply for a reentry visa.

What a nightmare, well not exactly. For some reason I was assigned first class, row 1 seat A. I got a fancy meal, 2 pillows, disembarked the plane first and was driven to the airport in my own bus! It was a little ridiculous for a 30 person jet but oh well. My first night solo in Athens I stayed in a 5 star hotel the lady at the airport help me find for only 70 euros, breakfast included. This place was fancy, normal room rates go for a whopping 350 (almost $500) Euros a night. I guess the lady at the airport saw sadness in my eyes and worked her magic to help me. Big fluffy bed, 2 terrible English TV channels and a huge shower, this hotel was a perfect place to lay my head while I racked my brain as to what I was going to do next. The following day I tried to eat something from the breakfast buffet but nerves took the best of me and I miss out on the craziest selection of food I’d ever seen. A crepe station, eggs, meats, several cheeses, a variety of smoked and oily fishes, coffee, tea, orange juice, ice tea, sour cherry juice, cereals, toasts, fresh fruit, all you can eat figs, nuts and yogurt accompanied by a dozen freshly made jams and chocolate spreads! The buffet had a choice of 4 different honeys for crying out loud! Oh well, next time.

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Leg room!

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Fancy hotel.

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I jump on the bus with my suitcase and make my way to the Bulgarian embassy a few kilometers north of Athens. Once there a guard tells me to go around the corner and speak through an old ratty intercom attached to a large gate. I can barely make out what the woman says but manage to understand that visas are by appointment only and I must return tomorrow at 11am. Gulp, I ask her where can I go from here, I’m completely helpless and homeless at this point, all she replied was a dry “I don’t know”. More like you don’t give a f*, please get off my lawn stupid Canadian girl. I cross the street, sit in a lovely green park and cry for a solid 15 minutes until I run out of tissues, old receipts and used bus transfers.

A quick search on hostelworld.com and I book a night in a 4 person female dorm at City Circus. What a treat, the hostel is in a 4 story historical building, completely reconstructed and designed with funky retro furnishings and quirky artwork. The staff is AMAZING, the place is immaculate, the beds are heavenly and you can’t beat the location, downtown with a clear view of the Parthenon from the cool rooftop patio.

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Three seconds after dropping of my suitcase at the hostel I made 2 new friends; Pila, a lovely Argentinian girl living in Madrid and Mickelle, an energetic girl from Chicago living in Orlando. The girls took me out for lunch, walked around all the tourist sites and even had a short nap in the park.  

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Pila, Mickelle, Amalia.

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My appointment at the Bulgarian embassy was useless, they didn’t even know how to help me and laughed when I said I was homeless. Every time I would ask them a question they would give me different answer, I truly don’t get why they are even there, they know nothing! I tried my luck with the Canadian embassy the following day and they were much more knowledgeable. The sweet Greek/Canadian lady did everything in her power to help me, I appreciated all her work. 

That night my little suitcase and I jumped on an overnight train to Thessaloniki to meet up with Matt, Mom, the 2 cats and our camper. What a relief to be with loved ones again, I really needed a hug! The first few days in Thessaloniki I visited the Bulgarian consulate (another useless meeting) and the Canadian consulate (more hope here) and filled out a ton of paperwork, forms, pictures, lawyers, signings, etc. After that it’s just a big waiting game.

Mom spent the remainder of her holiday in Greece drinking ouzo, eating bricks of feta, playing games, sneezing (because of cats), walking on the beach with her feet in the Mediterranean, taking pictures of ruins and exploring markets. She is truly a great woman, always game for anything, unbothered by the whirlwind of events, I love her to bits!

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Fingers crossed I’ll be back home before Halloween.

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