Archived entries for travel

Moon Festival

Here we are at the final destination and the last instalment of September ad-French-ure. I must admit, as much fun as it has been sharing this trip with you, putting together these posts – selecting and preparing the photos – has been hard work and I’m looking forward to going back to writing with more words than pictures!

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We had one last hurrah in France before leaving Europe. Our departure flight was an early morning one out of Paris, so we imposed on Jenny’s parents one last time to take us out in the mobiroom. We drove most of the way from Belgium to Paris, stopping overnight just outside of the city at Senlis, so that we could wake up in the morning and make the short trip to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Au revoir cobblestone streets!

Au revoir rustic French buildings!

Au revoir Notre Dame, even though you're just one of many Notre Dames dotted all over France and not the famous one in Paris!

Au revoir Monsieur et Madame!

Au revoir Rapido, our home away from home away from home!

Au revoir French sunset!

Hello Hong Kong! Hello full moon!

Our stay in Hong Kong co-incided with the Mid-Autumn Festival, but not by design. I had no idea when we planned the trip, but it worked out awesome, ‘coz it meant we got to celebrate with my relatives. More on that later.

We touched down at Hong Kong International Airport at just after 7am in the morning. Our plan was to drop off our bags at the hotel and then walk around all morning until our room was ready for check-in. I barely slept a wink on the flight over, so the prospect of being on our feet wasn’t looking very appealing.

I’ll tell you now: there’s something to be said for the benefits of luxury. On arrival at Langham Place, they let us check in immediately (although it may have had something to do with us agreeing to upsize to a nicer room on a higher floor). It was an immense relief to be able to take a shower and a nap before hitting the town.

Here are some pictures of the room that we stayed in (taken later on in the trip):

Langham Place has a reputation as "The art gallery masquerading as a hotel". This is part of a "Chinese art" exhibition.

The view from our room on the 31st floor.

The king-size bed - double the size of the one we had in the budget place where we stayed last time.

Well appointed: flatscreen TV and office facilities (including free wireless internet).

The usual minibar and wotnot.

The bathroom was all marble and glass.

Raowr.

"The water! It falls from the sky!" You probably won't believe me when I say I'm wearing undies behind that towel.

Mucking around in the elevator. Trying unsuccessfully to hide my huge belly!

Breakfast at the OK Coral. Well, it was quick and cheap at any rate.

Refreshed, we ventured forth into the world of culinary delights to seek out breakfast… and ended up at Cafe de Coral (the McDonalds equivalent of Chinese food in Hong Kong) because without my parents as guides and translators, we were totally clueless.

Things rapidly improved as we went back to revisit old haunts that we remembered from our previous trip, like this place inside the Langham Plaza famous for wontons. However, we had been instructed by my aunt not to eat too much, because she was cooking up a storm for the Moon Festival family gathering that night. I knew better than to doubt her.

This bowl of wontons cost HK$25 - under AU$3.50 at the time, even less now.

The family. There are 2 Jennys in this picture, with a 3rd to arrive later, but we forgot to get a shot of "the 3 Jennys".

A close-up of the feast.

Justin doing magic tricks. Look at those quick hands!

Jenny and Charmaine.

Charmaine was enamoured with the camera; a photographer in the making.

With my cousins Ricky, Raymond and Paul.

The remainder of the trip was a poorly documented flurry of intense eating and shopping. The ever-improving Aussie Dollar continued to blow our minds and things kept looking cheaper by the day. Again, practicality was far from our minds as we bought ridiculous items such as a waste bin, a garlic press and other kitchen bric-a-brac, clothes, several pairs of shoes, and of course, Transformers. In the end, we ended up having to buy an extra luggage just to accommodate all of our purchases!

Japanese at a restaurant on the Hong Kong side.

Mmm... ramen.

David, an old flatmate whom I haven't seen in years. He showed me where all the good Transformers places were.

Sizzling seafood plate at the "Western style" restaurant that David took us to.

Protection from the sauce splatters.

High Tea at Langham. This one is the "Sinful".

Ladies Market at night.

On our last night in Hong Kong, we discovered the eating area around the back of Mongkok. D'oh! Our last dinner.

Cramming in one last supper, which I would pay for dearly afterwards in food poisoning. It's "lup cheong fan".

And that was that. Having engorged both our luggages and our stomachs, we were finally on our way home. Well, not quite… of course we had to have one last breakfast at the airport with our remaining cash on hand.

Congee for breakfast!

The dish on the right ("ja leung") was actually better than that of most yumcha places in Sydney!

There, now we’re done.

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Thank you so much for joining me on this little photo-blogging series – it took a while to get through, but we got there in the end.

I’ve enjoyed reading all of your comments here and on Facebook.  I hope my posts have entertained and inspired you, and that you continue to stick around!

Bye for now!

*Roll credits*

And we thought our election was bad

Our September ad-Frenchure is over, but here are a couple of short, yet significant codas to round off the trip. The first of these is the our stay in Belgium at Jenny’s parents’ place.

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Although Jenny and I helped out with the Federal Election, we didn’t stick around long enough for the results; we didn’t know which government we’d be coming home to. But if you think Australia’s got it bad, spare a thought for the Belgians. I won’t embarrass myself by pretending that I have any idea about politics, and instead refer you to this article on Wikipedia. Suffice to say that the country hasn’t had an official government since June.*

Not that any of this had any bearing on our trip. We gladly sank back into a semblance of domestic life:

Um, what do I do with these "egg" things again? Do I... juggle them?

Home made Croque Monsieur and frites - the potatoes came from a local farmer!

And a rare treat… video! Flippin’ fantastic:

[youtube gL1QBOvnbTQ nolink]

But our Belgium stay wasn’t all just staying at home. No, the week that we spent there was punctuated with several activities. The first of these was a visit to the town of Leuven. We were invited over for lunch by Stefan and Wilma, good friends of Jenny’s folks, and afterwards they gave us the tour:

At the table with our gracious hosts

Stefan either used to be a chef or owned his own cafe, I forget. But he makes an amazing endive quiche (one of his specialties).

More of that crazy intricate European architecture (and of course, out of frame, there's construction going on).

Up close. The figures are just replicas; the originals are being stored inside for safekeeping!?!

The inside of a church. Talk about your high ceilings.

This whole thing is carved out of wood (though not from a single piece - that'd be ridiculous!)

The locals call this "the longest bar in the world". It's frequented mainly by students from the nearby university. Figures.

Some Transformers hiding out. Don't worry Constructicons, your secret is safe with me! (But seriously, what is that steam blasting thing?)

"Oh look, it's a botanical garden!" <cries>

A flower.

Another flower.

Trick question. Nope, flower.

My brains. (Yes, they actually set up a faux desert environment inside a greenhouse thing)

Next on the agenda was a family lunch with Jozef’s other children. This was our first time meeting our brothers and their families, and as with every gathering where young children are involved, it was a noisy, messy, hectic and fun-filled affair. Just don’t ask me to remember their names!

Frederik and Manuel. We were dead nervous about meeting them but they turned out to be really nice.

The kids obviously doing something cheeky, and don't they know it!

And last, but by no means least, Jozef and Suzie treated us to dinner at the classy Geuzenhof restaurant:

We were the only ones there that night, but there was a wedding party in the function room next door.

A tasting plate on the house. One of them was some kind of curry.

My entree, a shrimp... thing.

Another entree, also shrimp. There's only 2 kinds 'coz everybody had the same thing except me.

Surprisingly, Jenny ordered a meat for her main... and (really) enjoyed it.

I had the sea bass - not of the mutated, ill-tempered variety.

Parents had the set menu with goose for the main. I found it a bit tough, but the potato things were ace.

Amazing desserts from the set menu, except we were too full to have any.

The black triangle things are Cuberdons - a specialty from the town of Gent.

And that, in one post, was our stay in Belgium. It’s was a particularly sad and poignant occasion because Jenny’s parents are selling the place and downsizing, so the next time we visit we probably won’t see this house again. I mean, even though I’ve only been there twice in my life (and Jenny not too much more than that), it’s still “home” – you know what I mean?

We had such a relaxing time right throughout our two weeks in Europe, and as unlikely as it sounds, we weren’t really looking forward to the fast-pace, high intensity rush of Hong Kong.

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* Another interesting point of comparison was the fact that when we arrived “home” to our parents’ house in Belgium, the local government was in the middle of undergrounding the TV cable. I could wax lyrical about how efficient the whole process was, and draw similarities with the NBN and why its opponents are barking up the wrong tree, but I’ll spare you.

Viva la revolution! Hic!

Hello patient friends! I’ve been absent from the blogging world for a week or so while rearranging my digital toolkit – hope you haven’t forgotten about me and my September ad-French-ure! Yes, sadly it’s November now and the mists of time are already starting to cloud my memories of the trip but hopefully these photos will loose a few last nuggets.

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We’d been chateau-hopping for about a week by now, and our kind and generous parents/hosts were starting to feel a little bit homesick, not to mention a bit keen to try out their new toy – the Apple iMac that we’d been kicking around the whole trip (see previous post), so we bid “adieu” to La Loire and began the trip North back to Belgium.

In this time, Jenny and I had fallen thoroughly in love with France, so we pestered our parents for one last stop: Reims. We’d heard news from home that there’d been a bomb threat at the Eiffel Tower, which reconfirmed our decision to avoid Paris on this trip, so it was entirely appropriate – and not too far out of the way – to take a wide berth around the City of Lights anyway.

It’s a long trip, so we made a very brief stop over at Fontainebleau, famous for its association with the French Monarchy (and another chateau).

The front gate

Now *this* is a back yard

Yeah... I know, I know

Oh yeah, I should probably mention that Jenny saw a woman coming out of Chateau Fontainebleau holding a clutch of pears, so we went around the whole place looking for them, and eventually found and nicked a couple out of habit.

We arrived in Reims late in the afternoon. Reims is a larger and more cosmopolitan city than the ones that we’d previously been to, and the camping site was situated very close to a new shopping strip. Having been largely denied thus far (or at least limited to either little village boutiques, or massive super- and hyper-markets), our shopping instinct kicked in and we suddenly had a strong desire to stay a bit longer. In the end we managed to negotiate a full day in Reims even though it meant that Jozef would have to drive us back to Belgium during the late evening and into the night (difficult at the best of times).

The primary goal, of course, was to take a tour of the Champagne cellars of the famous brands: Veuve Cliquot*, Moet & Chandon, etc. Sadly, Moet was in Epernay, too distant for the short amount of time that we had; Veuve Cliquot was closed(!) and so we ended up booking a tour with Taittinger.

But first, dinner:

Ah, the joys of being Asian. Already red, and haven't even had a sip yet (I'm having a Rose champagne)

Now that's my kind of salad!

Some beef lurking behind the vegies

Smoked salmon pasta. Unfortunately, it wasn't very fresh

Filet mignon of pork - the best dish of the night

The next morning, when we arrived at the cave (French for “cellar” – you’ll see why in a sec), we were dismayed to learn that the “refurbishment curse” had struck again as the Taittinger building was being reconstructed. However the cellars were intact, which is what we had come to see anyway.

The English-language guided tour that we joined proved that Aussies are a mob of boozers. There were about 20 people in the group and more than half were Australian.

The gates to heaven, and I as Saint Peter

The bottles are turned by hand, a quarter circle at a time, several times a week

Several kilometres of tunnels, all filled with champagne

These caves contain tens-of-thousands of bottles each. If I remember right, they produce like 3-4 million bottles a year

This is what a fully stacked cave looks like

The high-end stuff, the "Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1998"

Monseur marvelling at the larger bottles

A quick aside from ogling at the grog for a quick education: champagne cellars tend to congregate in regions where there is chalk. The physical properties of chalk caves creates the steady, precise temperatures required in the champagne-making process; at the lowest level of the cellars, it’s a nippy 10 degrees.

The Taittinger cellar, like many others, is situated inside the corridors of an ancient Roman mine. Those crafty Romans carted off the chalk to make building materials, leaving these large, cavernous holes which just so happen to be perfect for making wine in.

The cellar used to be part of an abbey, with some vestiges, like this staircase, still remaining

Another remnant of the abbey, a wooden door with some religious symbolism

The chalk was cut out in pyramids to prevent the caves from collapsing

A model of the abbey that used to stand where the cellar is now

OK, back to the grog…

Cheers! We got rorted 'coz we were too busy taking photos to grab the glasses, hence we ended up one short.

"Ah, this is the life!"

A few of the many products that are produced by Taittinger

What the various-sized bottles look like cleaned up for retail

I must admit I was never a big fan of champagne before, probably because the only kind I ever drink is the cheap stuff that gets served at weddings and on “special occasions”. But the Taittinger was delicious, and one of the first things that we did when we eventually got home was to crack open the Moet & Chandon that we got given as a wedding present.

We brought back a bottle of Les Folies de la Marquetterie – a champagne matured in oak barrels – which isn’t available outside of France, as well as a pack containing smaller-sized bottles of Brut Réserve, Brut Prestige Rosé and Nocturne. The difficulty now is finding a special occasion to drink them, and deciding which of our friends to drink them with!

And with that, we toasted the end of the French part of our trip (although we would see France once more before we left, since our return flight was out of Paris). Next stop, home!

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* Jozef chided me for referring to Veuve Cliquot as just Veuve (like most people in Australia do), because by itself, the word means “widow” and sounds either morbid or disrespectful in French.

Da Vinci would’ve thought of a better post title

As October draws to a close, I inch forward towards the end of my September ad-French-ure. Technically, this is the penultimate post for the series since parts 9 and 10 are about other countries. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. Like the holiday itself, it’ll be over all too soon…

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One of the more popular subjects in this series so far has been about food, yet I haven’t shown you very many pictures of what we ate throughout the trip. I should be more proud than embarrassed, but I do feel a little shame in admitting that we spent most of the time “eating in” simply because we found the ordinary French food so delicious. As I already said before, even supermarket croissants were sublime.

Eating inside the close quarters of the mobiroom was an interesting affair – made even more so because under the table was where we kept the Apple iMac that we brought over from Australia as a gift for Jenny’s parents. So we don’t have any pictures of that. Therefore when we came across a picnic area (in the carpark of a strangely deserted aquarium) we took the opportunity to stretch our legs. It also afforded us a rare photo of one of our meals – fondue:

Who knew pieces of bread dipped in melted cheese could be so delicious!

Later that evening we continued on to Amboise (you actually pronounce the ‘s’ here because it has an ‘e’ after it – am-BWAH-ss). We found it difficult to locate the camping site but eventually discovered the tiny little carpark in some obscure back street. It was really small and cramped, but it was home for the night.

We managed to get a few evening shots, but most were blurry. This is about the only one that wasn’t:

Amboise in the evening, with its bridge that straddles the Loire river

The next morning, we set out for Clos Lucé. It’s not the chateau of Amboise (there is one, but we’re sick of chateaus now, aren’t we?) rather, it’s a nearby mansion where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life. The place is now a sort of “Da Vinci museum” in his honour. It’s a shame that we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the buildings; there was a display with models of some of Leonardo’s famous inventions, created by IBM from some of the master’s original drawings.

We're a long way from Paris...

A garden. I'm sparing you more pictures of flowers

One of Leonardo's many flying contraptions: the whirly thingamebob

They seem to be enjoying this a little -too- much...

An omnidirectional tank

A wind-up wheel

Jenny getting some perspective on life

Getting in touch with our inner child

"Wheeeeeeee!"

What all this has to do with Da Vinci I have no idea, but it was fun

I'm sure you would've done the same

A double-decker bridge

That evening, we discovered that there is a much nicer camping park on an island just outside of the city. We spent a much more relaxing evening there:

Another outdoors dinner - I made tomato fried rice and chicken stir fry

We also saw a whole heap of balloons being launched:

Preparing for lift-off

And up she goes...

Into the bright blue yonder

Free plug - you owe me one, www.balloonrevolution.com

There were heaps of them

And Jenny and I took a night stroll around the town:

The Chateau d'Amboise by night

Water under the bridge

The streets still look nice even when deserted, and all the shops are closed

Another busy street (actually, the nearby restaurants were doing a roaring trade)

Except for this pirate-themed "restaurant"... or is it?

Finally, I wanted to point out that the French have a funny way with words. Or alternatively, let’s just say there is a lot of room for misinterpretation between French and English:

Ouch.

I wonder what kind of service we would've gotten here

It saddens me to think that our tour of France will soon be over, but before that happens, there are a couple more interesting destinations…

Blois, Blois, Blois…

Do you want to know why I keep reiterating that this series is called “September ad-French-ure”? OK, pretend for a moment that you do. See, at the bottom of the right column of every page there’s this little drop-down menu for “Archives”, which groups my previous posts by month. For some odd reason, this has led to Google Analytics thinking that “December” is the most important word on my site, so just as a little game that I’m playing with myself (minds out of the gutter please…) I’m trying to see whether this series can knock December off the top spot. Except – oh shit – I just realised that I’ve now written December twice… oops, three times, but September only once twice.  *sigh*

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A perfectly good picture from the Chenonceau kitchen ruined by my shaky hands (click to see the large version, to see what I mean)

We didn’t take many photos in Blois, so I’m giving you fair warning that there will be more talking in this post than in the last few. Thus, I’d like to start with a little aside about photography. I’ve already mentioned that I’m not much of a photographer, mainly because I can’t be bothered; it doesn’t necessary mean that I don’t appreciate a good photo. We’ve got a lot of blurry photos, because what looked perfectly good and fine on the little LCD screen on the camera often turned out to be blurry when viewed on the big screen. So apologies for the poor quality of some of the ones you’ve seen so far, and especially for the ones that you’re about to see.

There is one thing I want to show you though. We have a lot of shots like this…

Some, er... windows in the Mont Saint-Michel abbey

… where Jenny wasn’t actually interested in taking a picture of something, so much as trying to capture a photo of ambient lighting. So while there is the odd good picture of stained glass windows or sunsets, we possess a number of pictures of… well, light. Unfortunately, I’m quite short sighted, I have astigmatism, and I’m partially colour-blind, so I don’t see the world in quite the same way as she does. Therefore I consider things like subject and composition to be rather important in a picture. Now behold my attempt at capturing light:

One of the upper rooms in Villandry

Heh.

Now while I’m being a smug bastard, let me also point out the cleverness of the title of this blog post. The French have this funny habit of dropping the pronunciation of the “s” at the end of words that have them. Hence “trois” is pronounced “twah” and “Blois” is pronounced… get it?

The aim of it isn’t to insult the French, but to give an impression of one particular experience that we had while in this city. Like the other places so far, Blois too has its own chateau. It’s not as big or as magnificent as the earlier ones – although it does have a very unique architecture spanning 4 major periods of French history; nor does it have a grand garden – being situated in the middle of the city. The unique thing about Chateau Blois is that every night they put on a “Son et Lumière” (sound and light) spectacular in the interior court and in fact, every Wednesday, they even have it in English. We arrived on a Thursday.

I didn’t understand a single word of the narration, but the pictures were pretty:

Despite what you see here, it was actually a lot darker

This external stairwell is quite magnificent, but it gets better...

Another "canvas" that you'll be seeing a lot more of throughout the show

The show begins, as does the narration...

There was a cool optical illusion (unintentional) where the light between the double pillars looked like pillars themselves

Medieval history, knights, horses, fighting... probably

Looks like a garden of sorts. Is there any point me pretending to narrate this thing?

Some stuff happens, and a funky new colour scheme appears

Their electricity bill must be huge

More gallavanting. What you can't see is that these pictures move (but don't animate)

Lights in the window to indicate famous historical figures having D&Ms inside

This would've taken some effort to do. They lit up different parts in different colours

Look at the columns. Can you tell which are the real ones?

OK this one I think I know. Anne de Bretagne. Her name came up a lot

They used different voices for different people. Not that it helped much

See does this mean that they died? What? What? I don't know!

A very subtle colour scheme. You have to go back to the earlier picture to see the difference

Look at this sinister fellow. A bad guy for sure, but nobody booed

Various portraits scrolled into view inside this frame

Some stern looking dudes. Ghosts from the past?

A bunch of rabble moving around. Unrest amongst the peasantry

A death of Shakespearean proportions

The murderer disappears into the shadows... dun dun DUUUUUUUN!

Now this was EPIC. Ever seen a real building cartoonified before?

A caricature of a building

It's curtains. The end! (No, really)

Something a little different to break the monotony of the chateau-hopping experience, don’t you think? Despite not understanding a single word of what was being said, I still found it really fascinating. If this piques your interest, I’m sure it’d only take 5 minutes on Youtube to find a recording of the English translation (we took a bit of video but it didn’t turn out too good. Jozef has almost the entire thing recorded from a previous trip.)

The next day, we had a look around the town, and did some shopping for the first time in France. As usual, we bought stupid things: a clock featuring a nature motif (with a little birdy swinging on a pendulum!) and plastic placemats for our dining table at home. Jenny redeemed us by buying a nice pair of red shoes.

Blois during the day

We had actually found a very nice camping site – very clean, with good facilities (including showers for the first time) and we were reluctant to leave. But there was so much more to see, we had to move on to the next stop on our itinerary.



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