A week in France

Last week we got took the car on the tunnel (something I had never done before) and drove to the Loire Valley in France for a week in a self catering cottage/gite.

Fun fact- I also learnt how to make photo collages. So, look forward to seeing many of those over the next few weeks!

We left on Friday night and stayed right by the tunnel in France, as we got a very late train (11pm or something)- we were toying between staying there or nearer to Rouen, to break the journey up a bit, but in the end decided that a 2 hour drive would not be the best at that time of night. I then found out that a parkrun had just started there- it was so tempting to change our plans but as Andy was driving it wasn’t really fair on him. I took my running things with me as I knew I would have time to run while I was there- I’ll save that for a separate post though.

The drive to our gite took up most of Saturday- we had a brief stop to pick up some lunch (and to use the toilets in Ikea), and another brief stop later on to eat lunch, but it took us pretty much from 9am-5pm to get there.

On Sunday we had a wander around the town near to us (Chinon)- there was an antiques market going on by the river so we spent a while looking around before walking up to the castle. Later we had a walk along a cycle path (although cars did drive down it)- great for me to scope out an easy running route.

On Monday our first chateau visit was to Villandry- you could pay for just the gardens and they were very impressive. It was baking hot there but we spent a few hours walking around and admiring the views and the beautiful plants- some inspiration for our garden at home! The fruits and vegetables were grown in geometrical shapes, and each bed had a map so you could see what was being grown in each section.

Of course a visit to France could not be without croissants- I was looking forward to almond chocolate ones, but we only found these once in a little bakery in the town, and then on our final day. The owners of the gite also made their own jam, and we were given a couple of jars as a welcome- I very much enjoyed the strawberry vanilla jam, and I brought home the plum with juniper berries. They did all sorts including strawberry bergamot which sounded amazing. The shops were full of delicious fresh fruits- I ate a lot of peaches and nectarines that week, and one say we treated ourselves to a mango.

On Tuesday we stayed around the gite for the day- I’d been on a run and after breakfast I sat in the garden and let my hair dry (I didn’t need to use a hairdryer for the whole week as it was so warm) and read- I managed to finish one book, read another one and then start a third during that week so I read a lot! There was a pool so Andy did a bit of swimming but I was happy enough relaxing in the garden.

On Wednesday we had decided to visit a couple of chateau that were further away- the first one was about a 90 minute drive.

Chambord (bottom left) was more like a palace- it was huge and rammed with tourists. It was a bit like Versailles – a palace built for the royal family but hardly ever used as they traveled about. We shuffled through the rooms and saw more beds and tapestries than I have before in my life. It did have some amazing architecture- a double helix staircase and some very amazing turrets, but I much preferred being outside so we had a walk around the gardens afterwards. We then headed to Chenonceau which was very impressive- the building spanned a river with a ballroom being the room on the first floor over the water. Interestingly the river was the border between occupied France during WW2, so it was used to smuggle people out. The day was fairly overcast when we left, but between the two places the clouds disappeared and so we had a very hot walk around the beautiful gardens there too.

On Thursday we headed to a chateau very close to Chinon (Chateau du Rivau) which was possibly my favourite. It was really quirky, with  sculptures everywhere (including a hole mole coming out of a mole-hill at the castle entrance, plus giant wellies and watering cans in the garden). It had lots aimed at children such as flower fairy gardens (remember those?? I used to love the flower fairies) and had some really amazing sculpture gardens with animals made using garden equipment- my favourite was a peacock where the tail was made with spades and rakes.

On Friday we decided to stay closer to home- after popping to the shops for some lunch we drove out to a different town (Saumur- a town by the river with a chateau perched on a hill) for a little mooch around we had another walk along the cycle way.

We made full use of the kitchen in the gite and always had dinner there (we are doing up our living room and just had a wood burner installed so we are on a bit of an economy drive). I was very excited to find proper iced tea for sale (not just iced tea flavour which is what things usually are). We tried a few (mint, lemon and green tea) but the black tea with peach won- yes it did have some added sugar, but only a teeny bit- it was 94% black tea with sugar and peach juice concentrate and it tasted like proper brewed iced tea.

I was very excited to have a chocolate almond croissant too- alongside a huge yellow nectarine and some hot tea it made the perfect breakfast.

On Saturday we were up early to check out and drive to Giverny, where Monet’s garden is (tip- book online as the queue is massive otherwise as it seemed like a “one in, one out” policy too).

It was beautiful there- of course it had the huge lily pond with everyone trying to take selfies and photos on the bridges, but the more formal gardens were amazing with long rows of flowers- one row would be yellows and oranges, another blues, another purple. We then headed to a supermarket to load up on goodies to bring home (coffee and wine for our parents, jam and chocolate for us) before a night in a hotel. We had about 2 1/2 hours of driving to get back to the tunnel, so we got up early and were on the road before 7.30. Apart from a brief panic in Rouen (a tunnel was closed and no diversion was signed but thanks to google maps we were back on track) the journey was smooth and we managed to get on an earlier train too. We’d bought some chocolate almond croissants the day before and these were a welcome breakfast once we were aboard the train.

It was a very different type of holiday to the one we usually go for- we would rarely stay more than a couple of nights in one place usually- but it was really relaxing without me feeling like I had cabin fever!

What sort of holiday do you like best?  Have you ever been on the tunnel before? I’d only been in the Eurostar as when I was little we would always get the ferry when driving to anywhere on the continent. It was so easy to not even need to pack properly but just throw it all in the boot with no worries about the amounts of liquids or the weight of anything.

Germany recap

So, after a few days in Austria, we got a bus from Salzberg to Berchtesgaden, a national park in Germany.

We arrived too early to check in, so we left our bags in the hotel and then got a bus up to the mountains. Andy wanted to visit the Eagle’s Nest, so we headed there. I didn’t know much about it, but it was interesting. At the main stop there was a small museum (although it only took cash and we didn’t have enough with us for the audio guides, and all of the exhibits were in German so I didn’t understand much of it), and the bottom floor of the museum was the bunker. You could walk around the bunker and see the different rooms, as well as graffiti from the troops who found it.

No cars were allowed to the next part, so you had to buy a bus ticket (or it was something like a 3 hour hike)- at most parts the road was only wide enough for one vehicle so the buses leaving the top and bottom left at the same time and met in the middle for the passing places. At the top, you then queued to go up in a lift to the very top. The views were beautiful, but it was a strange place to visit. I think they said Hitler only went there maybe 9 times, and the actual home is now a restaurant (which seems weird to me too).  I did find it uncomfortable seeing people take selfies and things up there- I mean, they don’t want it to be some right-wing extremist pilgrimage place, but it seems a bit too far the other way.

Anyway, on the bus on the way back down to the main part, the most torrential downpour started, and of course our rain coats were back in the hotel. We were drenched within seconds of getting off the bus, but luckily there was a bit of shelter, so we waited for it to ease off before running to the next bus stop, to get back down to the town.

This was our hotel, by the water- no sign of the downpour by then! We had a lovely wander into the town, admiring all of the buildings with their window boxes full of flowers.

The next day we got the bus out to the national park- there is a huge lake there and you could get a boat ride (45 mins ish) to the end of the lake, where there were lots of hikes. At one point they stopped the boat and someone played a horn (or trumpet, or something) because there was a famous echo point.

We did a 3 mile walk along to another lake (I put my Garmin on for the way back to see how far it was)- at some points it followed the edge of the lake, and at others it followed large stone steps up and down the side of the cliff edges. The scenery was beautiful, but it was so hot. We took a break at the end before walking back to catch the boat again.

Loads of people were swimming in the lake- I bet it was freezing but so refreshing after walking in the heat.

To get to Munich (where we flew home from) we had to get the bus back to Salzberg and then a train to Munich.

I didn’t know what to expect with Munich but it was jam packed with tourists. After a shorter wander on the afternoon we arrived, we spent most of the next day in the main park, the English Garden. It was a bit like Central Park- huge. A river ran through the centre and at one point there was a bit of a whirlpool and people were taking it in turns to surf in the river. Loads of people were swimming and sunbathing, we saw people playing cricket, playing football in those big inflatable zorb things, people horseriding and cycling…. it was clearly the place to be on a hot weekend day.

We could have got the underground or a tram back to nearer our hotel, but we ended up walking- it didn’t quite beat our Salzberg days but it was close.

The day we flew home it was due to rain, so originally we were going to head to a museum, but when we got to the train station to buy the ticket (you could get a day ticket that included travel to the airport as well as the trains and trams in the city centre), it turned out the machine wouldn’t take cards, so we walked to the main station (probably a 30 min walk) and looked there for a bit. Andy found out by then that he could get an app and buy the tickets that way, but by the time we had worked it out, there wasn’t enough time to get out to the museum and back again to get the bags from our hotel, so we ended up just having another walk around the centre. It was a bit quieter, but not much. Pretty much all of the shops and cafes were closed, which was a bit strange. I do wonder what the American tourists think when they come to a fairly big city and then find out that not much is open. Anyway, despite the rain (and it didn’t come to much luckily) there was still plenty to see- lots of huge buildings (some looked like they belonged in Paris, whereas others were the more typical Germanic style), statues and fountains to keep us busy.

It was a lovely 10 days- lots of scenery and interesting places, but of course we have also added other places to the list now (we think we’ll head back to Austria with a car so we can visit more of the smaller places).

Have you ever visited somewhere with a bad past? I remember going to Pearl Harbor (which also had people taking selfies all around)- it was a really sad place as the bodies hadn’t even been recovered. I know some people visited concentration camps as school trips but I don’t think I could actually visit somewhere that awful.


Austria recap

Last Friday we flew out from Heathrow early in the morning, to Vienna. We had been there a few years ago, for the Christmas markets, and decided that we wanted to go back in warmer weather to enjoy all the parks, so it seemed a great place to start out trip. It was totally baking though- they were having a heatwave so heading to a city didn’t seem quite so appealing! Luckily the places we visited had lots of parks to wander around, and plenty of places selling cold drinks!

Here are a few highlights:

The (free) gardens of the Schonbrunn Palace- a perfect place for an evening picnic with views of the gardens, palace and then Vienna.

Admiring the plants (hollyhocks are my favourite) in another palace in Vienna.

I didn’t take a photo (I really wish I did) of my delicious salad bowl from Freshii as it was totally made to be on Instagram- I had a bowl of salad with almonds, beetroot, goats cheese, mango, some other stuff- (you could add tofu but it was filling enough as it was)- instead of having it all mixed in, each section of the bowl had a different ingredient so the colours stood out. But I was hungry.

After a couple of days in Vienna we got the train to Salzberg- I’d never been before but have always thought it looked good.

A walk by the river into the old town was very scenic.

Views of one of the many castles in Salzberg from a slightly cooler walk in the woods.

Mozart cake (the town is either obsessed with Sound of Music stuff, or Mozart stuff- any cake with hazelnuts and pistachio marzipan is a winner in my book, and we actually had a piece each instead of sharing, plus it was topped with a piece of Mozart ball, which is basically chocolate made with praline and marzipan).

Views of the Austrian and German countryside from the top of Untesberg cable car (we got a pass for the day that included buses, the cable car, another palace which was something else to do with the Sound of Music, museums etc.).

Delicious soft gingerbread from the Pirker gingerbread shop (as it comes from Mariazell it is only right that I would love it so much)- so many to choose from and in the end we went for one with a filling of marzipan and nuts. It was amazing. Off to see if they deliver to the UK….

We managed to beat the 11,000 steps per day pretty easily- on the day of our train journey it was “just” 14,000, but one day in Salzberg was over 25,000 so we were on our feet for most of the day.

After that we headed to Germany, but I’ll save that for another day.

Have you been to Austria? As my Grandma was Austrian, we used to go and visit family a lot when I was little, but my trip to Vienna was the first visit as an adult.  Do you like to walk a lot when you are sightseeing? I much prefer it to a sightseeing bus as it means I can take my time (or not) and pop into places that take my fancy.


Deer spotting but not in a race this time (and a Strava mile)

After going to Maidstone parkrun we first headed to Nymans, a National Trust garden (it kept making me think of Newman from Seinfeld). There were parts of a ruined building there, but it was basically huge gardens which we walked around for ages, getting inspiration (and buying a plant) for our garden.

Rain was forecast but luckily there were only a couple of short showers and nothing to make us head inside.

We then went to Sheffield Park (confusingly in East Sussex) and had another walk around the gardens there. There were loads of ducklings swimming about on the pond.

They also had some huge Californian Redwood trees (including this one that had been chopped down)- not quite like Yosemite but some were 30m high.

Of course we had to visit the tearoom for a bit of lunch, before we drove to Tunbridge Wells. We had booked Bill’s for dinner and had an hour or so before so had a little wander around the shops. I was very excited to see they had a Bluebird Tea shop there!! Of course I bought an iced chai latte (they make it with almond milk and their own chai concentrate plus a little honey and it is so delicious) .

I also bought a few fruity blends as we have been making iced tea at home and running our stock a little low.

I went for Pink Grapefruit (which they had a sample of in the shop- so zingy), Retro Ted (coconut, pineapple, lemongrass and rose), Lemonade and Cherry Bakewell (white tea, almond and berries). Now the problem is- which one to make first?

On Sunday we headed over to Knole park for our final NT place of the weekend.

It reminded me of a cross between Ashridge and Hatfield House with huge gardens filled with people walking and picnicking, as well as a house, cafe and shop. We had a quick walk around the house (I am not so keen on the insides but it is in our pass so may as well look) before having a lovely long walk around the grounds.

Even though the car park was busy we didn’t pass many people as the grounds were so huge- we even walked past a golf course at one point!

While we were walking the sun even came out for a bit.

After a visit to the tearoom of course (we shared some lovely fruit cake) it was time to head back- these deer were right by the car park.

Three more NT place visited- we are going to get value for money from our membership!

We got home at around 4.30, so I decided to give the Strava mile a bash- they are challenging people to run their fastest mile in June. I could not work out a one mile route without any road crossings, but I worked out that if I ran out the back way from home there is a little path through some woods that then runs through a park. You then run out onto the pavement but it only crosses one road, which is a cul-de-sac, so there is less chance of having to stop. I would have to turn around at the end, but I would just run until I heard my watch beep.

I ran gently to the start and didn’t start my Garmin as I didn’t want to have to stop it and save it separately. I tried to look on my phone at Strava to see my recent fastest mile but I could not work out how to find out (my fastest mile is apparently 5.44 which is when my watch got confused as to where I was…). I decided that anything under 8.30 would be good as that is the fastest mile I have run in a parkrun.

It was hot and I felt a bit hungry as we hadn’t had lunch, and I felt like I kept looking at my Garmin while I was running- I hardly ever do this. It always seemed to say around 8.22 which was good. I had to turn around at about 0.75 miles which was annoying as you lose momentum (I tried to take it as wide as I could)- there was an option to turn right at the end of the road but then there are more road crossings and I didn’t know where the mile would end. The final .2 seemed to take ages- I ended up counting to 100, and then decided to run on a bit after my watch beeped as sometimes Strava takes a bit of mileage off my Garmin (e.g. a 5 mile run will end up being 4.9 miles on Strava)- I didn’t want that to happen! Once I felt like I was safe I just stopped and gasped for breath, before very slowly heading home. When I uploaded my time I had run 8.17 which I was pretty pleased with. I don’t think that Sunday afternoon is my best time, but it was the only time I could have managed it before the end of June, and it was fun to have a go.  At least now I have a baseline and something to aim from.

Also, look at this:

I loved doing yoga outside last Wednesday, but I did get bitten on my foot and my leg- the one on my foot was right where my sandal strap was, and it was super itchy inside my running socks (that’s the hotel carpet!)- I ended up heading to Boots in Tunbridge Wells to get some after-bite stuff. It’s only really gone now and that’s a week later! (Although I should not complain too much as some people get a much worse reaction than that)

Did you try and attempt a Strava mile? Do you have some nice parks close by? Do you like a picnic? 


A little jaunt around Scotland

I used to travel up to Scotland a lot when I was younger as I had a friend who moved up there, but I had not been for years. For some reason we have now been twice in less than a year!

On Friday we flew up to Edinburgh from Stanstead- as we were hand luggage only this meant not too long at the airport and not too much stress once through security (as we landed there was a fanfare over the tannoy system announcing how good Ryanair were at being on time).

After parkrun on Saturday morning (see previous post) we picked up the car and drove to Pitlochry, where we would be staying for a couple of nights.

Saturday- we park in town and have a wander. Check in to B&B. Walk into town a bit too late and get caught in torrential downpour. Discover that my “shower-proof” pack-a-mac is not waterproof in the slightest. All restaurants full so end up eating chips from a chip shop under the awning of a shop.

Sunday: We did some lovely walks around the town, around some different lakes and forests, including getting slightly lost for a bit in some woods, and finding some stone carvings.

Pitlochry was a lovely little town- it was all very walkable and we could walk down into the centre from our B&B. It had plenty of lovely cafes and even a John Muir centre (we are more used to seeing things about him in the US National parks). We saw a salmon ladder, although it was too murky to see inside if there were any fish. It was so warm we even shared an ice cream.  As it was so busy the day before we had booked a meal for the Sunday evening (I had veggie fajitas which came with the most enormous pile of sizzling peppers, onions, courgettes, mange tout etc.).

Monday- Of course we went to a distillery. We were heading to Fort William and this one was on our way. Initially I was going to drive the hire car on this day, but it was too expensive to add another driver, and we found lots of the distilleries did driver packs where you took sample bottles away. Bonus for Andy- he gets mine too!

We stopped off in Aviemore for a wander and lots of people had recommended this mountain cafe, run by someone from New Zealand. This was a falafel and beetroot sandwich and it was so huge- each slice of bread was the thickness of two normal slices! Andy had a flatbread with chilli haloumi in it, which was equally as huge.

Their cakes had come recommended so we bought some lime and blueberry cake for after dinner, and a chocolate, plum and almond scone (*).

It was still fairly overcast and we didn’t want to get to the B&B too late so we didn’t stay much longer- I think if we were to visit again there would be some lovely walks nearby. We then drove to Fort William and after checking into our B&B had a walk beside the water. We were both so full from lunch that we had a bit of fruit salad, and then shared the cake.

The view from our room

Tuesday- It rained. Oh, how it rained. We had a lovely breakfast (cinnamon porridge) and took our time as it was just raining and raining.

We drove out to one of the visitors centres, and after being told off for not having walking boots (even though we told the lady we were only there for one more day, she told us quite seriously to drive back to Fort William and to buy some walking boots), we found a walk through a forest to Signal Rock.

It actually stopped raining for the walk, so we enjoyed the views and fresh air (the midgies, less so).

Just as we were nearing the car park the rain started, and as we got into the car it was torrential yet again. We drove out towards the coast for a bit in the hope of passing the rain, but it seemed fairly set in, so we headed back to Fort William as there was a little museum there. We mooched around the museum for a bit, had lunch in a lovely little cafe, wandered around the town a bit more and picked up a little picnic tea. We drove to the canal to see Neptune’s staircase (8 locks)- so we walked up one side and down the other.

There was even a teeny bit of blue sky.

We had a little picnic with these views, and I got out the scone * for us to share after. Sadly, it turned out to be some sort of cheese scone, and not the plum and chocolate one I had asked for- how annoying!

Wednesday- we had a long drive back to Edinburgh so left early. I took a few photos as we were driving- it was so scenic.

Once we returned the car (which took 35 minutes because there was one customer in front of us and no other members of staff, and this customer was being a right pain) we had a few hours to wander around Edinburgh.

Blue skies!

More blue skies!

We were going to go out for lunch as we wouldn’t be back until after dinner time, but it was so sunny we got some picnic bits and sat in the park.

It was so peaceful and a lovely end to the holiday. We had time for a bit more of a wander around the centre before we got the bus back to the airport.

Now, we just had to go straight through to security, and at Edinburgh they have the big body scanners. I was randomly selected to go through one, and I made sure I had nothing in my pockets, not even a hairband (I was stopped before and then had to have a proper search because it called up an anomaly which turned out to be a small hairband in one of my pockets- they are clearly very sensitive). On the screen it shows where the anomaly is and it was my hair! After having the pat down I had to turn around and the lady had to lift up my hair and pat it down too! That has never happened before- I do really need a haircut though!

Our plane was a bit late landing (no fanfare this time) and we got home at 9pm- the good thing about going away for only a few days meant that unpacking only took about 10 minutes!

Have you ever been to Scotland? We are already planning another trip for sometime next year. Do you like more active holidays?