We drove to Versailles with the plan to visit the palace. We arrived at a carpark but when we went to pay, the maximum stay was 2 hours, which was definitely not going to be enough. A helpful local told us there was one carpark that you could park in for 8 hours, so we went there. When we got there we were told that it was for cars only and we should go back to the carpark we had come from and it would be OK to stay there for the full day.
When we got back to the carpark it was full so we went to Paris.
On the way we saw the Eiffel tower in the distance which certainly made it feel real.
It was SWTTM’s birthday and I had booked a B&B. Only problem was I didn’t really know what I had booked. I found the place on the internet but the owner did not speak too much English.
We put the address details we had into Jack and headed off. We got to the street and drove along, eventually it got pretty narrow between the walls of the properties, then the road stopped altogether. We had to reverse back – I asked a couple working in their garden, but even though I nodded like I understood I still had no idea. After reversing back 100 metres or so we were able to turn around in a driveway. We stopped again and I asked some people walking along the road and we were actually right outside the B&B.
We then had to find someone. All of the gates were closed so I looked around, eventually finding someone working outside – he spoke no English but phoned the person I had booked with and we were in.
It was a cute little place and we had a relaxing time celebrating SWTTM’s birthday.
On our way to Orleans we stopped at a little patisserie and bought some snacks as well as our normal baguette.
After arriving in Orleans, the city which was liberated during the Hundred Years War when Joan of Arc led the army, we walked to the church to see a series of stained glass windows depicting Joan of Arc’s life and ultimately her death.
We had a wander through some of the streets including Rue Joan of Arc and checked out some more of the Joan of Arc memorials.
We also visited a park in the city where Legoboy had a chance to play on the playground.
The kids help us to research places to go from time to time. MiniMandM found a place she thought looked interesting called Rocamador.
On the way we stopped at a little village called Dordogne which looked very French especially with an old Citroen in the carpark.
The terrain became very hilly and rocky as we approached Rocamador. We came around a corner and were met with a fantastic view of the village and the castle at the top and were glad that MiniMandM had discovered this place.
The next day we had a look around the castle at the top of the cliff (at this stage we could not see the village below because it was shrouded in fog) then walked down the paths to the church and village.
The church compound is built into the side of the cliff; the back wall of the church is actually the stone of the cliff.
This church is also a place that people make a pilgrimage to and there is a set of stone steps that some pilgrims climb on their knees.
A very nice old village at the bottom of the cliffs had a lot of shops that we had a wander through.
We then had to make the trek back up to the top before heading off.
A nice drop of rain that is.
The day we visited Bordeaux it rained the whole time we were there and by the time we left we were soaked through to the skin. When we got back to Max all of the kids got out of their wet clothes and into their PJ’s. But that is not to say we didn’t have a look around and have a good time.
We wandered the streets. The first thing we came across was a huge fountain filled with mythical sea creatures – they seemed to be enjoying the rain.
We walked along the mall and then through some back streets. We didn’t get lost but we didn’t always really know where we were. We saw an Arch of triumph – which seemed to be the thing to do when you defeated someone.
We even saw a huge bronze tortoise – it may have just been out because of all of the rain.
We saw a church.
We saw part of the old city wall. We saw Victor Hugo Avenue. We saw a funny stripy hippopotamus (just for you Trixie).
We even saw a little girl in a plastic bag – I was always told not to put a plastic bag over your head but obviously they do things a little differently in France.
As you can tell we saw lots of different things.
Bordeaux is a very pretty town even in the rain. It is a very French provincial style full of grand old buildings. It is the type of town to wander through and explore – if you have time. Unfortunately we didn’t.
When I think of France I don’t usually think of sand dunes, so it was a little surprising to discover that they have a massive one. The Grand Dune de Pyla is the biggest sand dune in Europe. It is about 117 metres tall and 3 kilometres long.
To me it is even stranger that there is just one. Normally you get a group of dunes one after the other – here just one massive one. It appears like God got a wheelbarrow (God sized) full of sand and just dumped it here on the edge of the forest – with the ocean on one side. As the dune is surrounded by forest and is slowly moving (about 1 metre per year) you can see where it has started to devour trees that I guess will eventually end up inside it.
We arrived at the dune, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere along the south-west coast, about lunch time. Of course there is a parking area where you have to pay to park. The first half hour is free (which if you ran you may get to the dune have a look, but not climb, then run back) but we spent that preparing for the trek by having lunch.
To get to the dune you walk through the forest. The track gets sandier and sandier as you get closer. You see people stopped emptying sand from their shoes. Then you kind of just walk into it. You are confronted by this massive pile of sand.
The walk to the top was hard work – steep on the downwind side of the dune – and the sand was very soft. In summer when it is busy here they put fiberglass steps up to the top.
We had a good look around at the top and had a run around. It was very cold and windy though. The run down was a lot easier and also a lot of fun – we went down a really steep part.
At the bottom we all had to empty out our shoes, and by the amount of sand piled up around the seats most people need to do this.
Definitely a different experience, and based on the sheer physical exertion one that Mr Dunham should count for the girls’ morning fitness.
Our first stop back in France was Bayonne. Apparently this is where the bayonet originated. In the 1500’s while the Spanish inquisition was going on the Jews left Spain and settled here – they also bought the chocolate making skills with them.
We were unable to find any chocolate factory tours but we did manage to find a number of chocolate shops – which of course we had to sample and buy from.
The building on the right was the first building in France to have wrought iron balustrade.
Bayonne was the first place wrought iron balustrading was used in France – based on how much you see around the place Bayonne is a trend setting place.
We also experienced a first here. We tried out a public toilet. This was special for a few reasons. 1 there are not that many public toilets in France. 2 it was free. 3 it was a self cleaning toilet. After every use the door closes and the whole interior – toilet, basin floor – is washed and disinfected. So it was quite an experience.
Just for you Mum and Dad – a shop we saw in Bayonne.
Our last few days in Spain we travelled along the coast. We came across an unusual number of cyclists as well as people just walking along the highway. The strangest sight was where the highway ran right along the coast and there were people standing on the road fishing.
On the really tight sections of road along the coast often the road would split as you came to a corner. The seaside part of the road would go around the outside and the inside road would go through a tunnel or through a narrow cutting – it felt a little strange.
The scenery here also reminded us of north west Tassie. It became a little confusing and we wondered where we were sometimes because all of the houses were Swiss style – think traditional Swiss chalet – very un Spanish.
Not a great photo but you get the idea.
Our last night in Spain was in a beachside town called San Sebastian. The girls went shopping here while Legoboy and I had a walk along the beach. We met up for a bit of morning tea and then us boys went back to the beach to build a sand castle while the ladies finished of their shopping.
Then it was off to France.
Not too much to say about The Guggenheim. We were more interested in the outside of this building than the modern art inside so we just spent some time wandering around. We had seen a documentary on the building of the building a few years ago so it was interesting to see in the flesh.
The setting for the gallery is very nice, just on the edge of the river in Bilbao with parklands around. The kids also enjoyed the fountains that you can run through as well as the playground just nearby. The massive dog made out of flowers was impressive.
I have to give the credit for this photo to MiniMandM.
We got to see our first Spanish squirrel in Burgos, but we didn’t come here to look at squirrels so we headed off into the town.
We didn’t have a very good map of Burgos so had a little trouble. I think we are used to more modern towns which have a little more straight forward town planning with streets that generally run parallel etc. Here you cannot assume that if you turn left and walk one block and then right and walk one block you will end up in the same place as if you walked one block and then turned left and walked one block (hopefully that makes sense). So you can get lost pretty quickly.
The first place we were looking for was Casa Del Cordon (The Cord House) named after the Franciscan Cord in the stone work around the doors. Christopher Colombus met with the Catholic Kings here when he returned from America in 1515.
We continued on to the cathedral. Burgos is on one of the pilgrim routes so there are pilgrims coming here to have their passports stamped. The cathedral is large with a number of very impressive chapels built by kings etc.
There are also some interesting drawings and pictures of what the cathedral looked like before the massive central spire collapsed in the 1500’s. There is also an interesting little fellow high up on the wall inside called the “Flycatcher”, he opens and closes his mouth when the bells ring – no idea why that is there (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo). Some of the artwork in this church is a little strange.
We had a little bit more of a wander around the town.
You will be glad to know that on the way back to Max we did find Casa Del Cordon. It is quite unassuming. It is now used as a bank so the inside is not very exciting. I got into trouble for trying to take a photo inside and was told that I could only take a picture of one internal view, away from the people at the counters and lining up.
Casa Del Cordon
We headed north again and passed through some more mountainous areas.
There was a little chapel beside the road below this bell.