A Travellerspoint blog


Carcassonne and Home!

Girona, Minerve, Carcassonne, a couple domestic stops, and home.


A few travel thoughts

My family members are rock stars. They made 45 nights away from home in 20 different locations an adventure of a lifetime! They trust me with travel planning and seem to enjoy the choices I make. They have endurance, patience, tolerance, curiosity, and open-mindedness - the qualities of all-star travelers. I'm so proud of them and get teary-eyed just thinking about this trip coming to an end.

Renting apartments in Europe

We stayed in 10 different Airbnb and Homeaway apartments. We liked all of our apartments but can offer the following suggestions for all renters.

1. People like a place in the bathroom to put their stuff. A shelf, chair, hook, or whatever. I know European bathrooms are small but it is nice to leave a few personal items somewhere besides the floor.

2. There needs to be more than one mirror in an apartment that sleeps 6. Please put mirrors in the bedrooms or on other walls.

3. I know Europeans aren't big on air conditioning. That's fine. But if you're renting your place to the world, please offer a couple of cheap electric fans. Not all of us are used to sleeping in 80 degree nights.

4. Spring for a new kitchen sponge. Add it to the rental rate if necessary.

5. If you have lamps and clocks, check to make sure they work. I can't tell you how many lamps we tried to use that either didn't have a light bulb or just flat out didn't work.

These are small gripes but would make a difference in a weary traveler's stay.

Now back to the blog...

Girona, Spain and on to Carcassonne, France

We left Barcelona on a quiet Sunday morning for the town of Girona. Girona is a big cycling town so DH was intrigued. We found parking and hiked along the historic city walls. It was a neat urban hike with lots of stairs and look-outs. Climbing to the top of things is really my favorite thing so this trail hit the mark.


We found something that reminded us of home. Go Ducks!


We enjoyed the narrow streets and relaxed feel of this town after the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. After a little shopping and gelato, we drove further north into France for a quick picnic. By this point, we were eager to get rid of groceries that we had accumulated over the course of this long trip.

Once we arrived in Carcassonne, we found parking after a little struggle and checked into our last apartment at the top of an older building. There were so many stairs.

We wandered around a bit on this quiet Sunday and decided on a recommended Italian place for dinner. Tripadvisor has served us well on most of our trip. This place was no exception. The caprese salad was probably the best I've ever had.


We were wearing down and ready for a quiet night of sleep. Unfortunately, the local teenagers on the street below had other ideas and kept us awake with loud music and talking. We finally got some rest and were eager to explore the fortress of Carcassonne tomorrow.


Minerve and Carcassonne

We began our day with a cute little bakery about 15 minutes from the center of Carcassonne. There was even a cute French cat.


After a challenging and windy drive up some very narrow roads, we finally made it to the picturesque village of Minerve. Minerve is set in a canyon protected from attackers and nature's elements.


After a delicious lunch in a nearby town, we headed back to explore the Carcassonne old city in hopes that the hordes of tourists might have left for the day. Luckily, many were leaving the city making our exploring much more pleasant and accessible.


The charming and scenic old city reminded us of Mont St. Michel. We loved wandering around and remembering that this was really our last day sight-seeing in Europe.

We finally walked back to the apartment, packed up and prepared for our last road trip to Geneva, Switzerland.

Geneva (sort of) and home

We drove around 6 hours on France's expensive toll roads to a town just outside of Geneva. We picked a town on the French side to save money. On the way, we stopped in one French town famous for its nougat.


We drove on and arrived at a regular hotel where we could pack and relax one last time. I found a nearby grocery store where I got teary-eyed once again. So many cheeses left untasted. I really was quite emotional in this random French grocery store as I reflected on our amazing journey.


DH washed his wonderful car in preparation for its long 9-10 week journey back to the US.


It's hard to believe that our trip is nearly over. On the way to Oregon, we will stop in Washington DC to see dear friends for one short night. We will also stop in Fargo, North Dakota for four nights for a family reunion. So even though the European part of our trip is over, there is a bit of fun left in the US.

For now, the 2017 portion of the blog is complete. It is finished without any concrete plans for future trips. Even though I'm excited to return home, I know I'll be happiest when I have new plane tickets in hand. So until next time, goodbye, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, tchau, and adios.

Posted by familyineurope 05:45 Archived in France Tagged geneva girona carcassonne minerve Comments (1)

Amboise - a room with a view, castles, and the zoo

First time in the Loire Valley. Beautiful despite the weather.


Drive from Germany to France

Today was our longest driving day of the trip - just over six hours. We stopped for picnic items in Germany. DH worked his tetris magic with trunk packing, and off we went. It poured rain on our drive but we still made decent time on France's expensive toll roads. We were especially excited when we saw the chateau in Amboise. We were even more excited when we saw our apartment with a priceless view of the castle. I saw pictures online but seeing the view in person was remarkable.


The host of our apartment was a friendly and spunky woman who did an excellent job explaining the town of Amboise as well as the features in our apartment. It's such a charming little place! We decided to cross the river to see the old town.


A pharmacy vending machine. That's a first!


We found a grocery store and stocked up on some breakfast items before having a nice pizza dinner. DH and I sneaked next door to Shaker Bar where even our drinks had a great view of the castle.


We were all tired and eager to wake up to our first full day in France.


Chenoncaeux, wine tasting, and a fancy dinner

After a very scenic run and an easy breakfast (French yogurt is so good!), we made a short 20 minute drive to the famous Chenonceau chateau. It's amazing how the castle is built over the river. The kids really enjoyed taking pictures from many different angles. The inside of the castle was beautiful and DD#1 was excited to see real-life examples of the Renaissance, which she'd learned about in school last year.


We spent around two hours wandering the interior, exterior, and gardens surrounding the castle. It is a very unique castle.


We found a nearby boulangerie for lunch. We had simple and tasty baguette sandwiches (mom had a pizza). DH was able to make a reservation at a recommended restaurant, l'Ilôt, for dinner. My mom agreed to stay at the apartment and eat with the kids. We stopped at a large French supermarket, E.Leclerc, for dinner and various things we didn't know we needed. They were making fresh crepes in the bakery and the aisles of cheeses and yogurts sucked me in! It was a much longer (and more expensive) stop than anticipated.

Before heading back to Amboise, we made one final stop at a winery for a quick tasting. The kids groaned but were instantly happy when given fancy sparkling grape juice in a champagne flute.


Leonardo da Vinci retired in Amboise and is buried in the chateaux. We were impressed by his statue which was just down the street from our apartment.


The nearby park wasn't too bad either.


My mom and I decided to do a little more shopping and exploring in the cute town of Amboise. After not really buying a thing, we ended up at a typical little bar for a glass of wine. Although Amboise is touristy, it seems most of the visitors are French.


We made it back in time for DH and I to leave for our 8pm dinner reservations. L'ilot was exceptional! This small French restaurant had its kitchen in the center. We were seated at the bar where we had a great view of the chefs in action. What a treat to eat a slow meal in courses! The seafood starters were exceptional and my pork dish was amazing. The pretty strawberry and chocolate mousse dessert with glass sugar decor was a perfect ending. We were so full! My mom and the kids were good sports and ate a simple meal in the apartment. After a busy day, they really didn't seem to mind.


Amboise Market, Castle and Beauval Zoo

My mom and I started off the day at Amboise's Sunday market. The food section was so colorful and diverse. The non-food items felt more like a flea market with products made far from France. I was hoping there would be more locally produced items.


We decided to split up for much of the day. My mom offered to take the kids to France's largest zoo. Admission prices were steep ($30 per person) so we were more than happy to save a few Euros and find an alternate activity. We drove about 40 minutes on windy and narrow backroads to the somewhat remote zoo. DD#2 was extra excited to see the pandas. Sadly, they only spotted one of the two pandas and he slept the entire time.


When DH and I made it back to Amboise, we decided to keep it simple and tour the castle that we'd been staring at out our window for the last two nights. Although much simpler that Chenonceau, Amboise Chateau was still beautiful.


DH and I wandered the town and were amazed by the homes built into the hillside (troglodyte homes). After a simple snack of cheese and baguette in our apartment, it was already time to pick up the rest of the family at the zoo.

We stopped in a smaller less-touristy town called Montrichard. The kids played at a park and we hoped to find a recommended restaurant for dinner. No luck. On Sundays, most everything is shut down.


We decided to continue eating the groceries we'd already purchased and added a couple more things from the local Carrefour. It felt good to enjoy our apartment and take numerous pictures on our last night in Amboise. The sun was finally out so we enjoyed out last evening views of the castle. We will never forget this place!


Tomorrow, we are off to Spain!

Posted by familyineurope 22:40 Archived in France Tagged zoo chenonceau amboise beauval Comments (1)

Tour de France from the Pyrenees!

July 12th – Moving on to the Pyrenees.

We packed up after a great six nights in the Dordogne. The hosts at the B&B were so kind and gave us a nice stainless steel coffee container with their logo full of coffee for the road.

Our drive took us through more foie gras country. We were off the main autoroutes this time and poked through many small villages. We had a great picnic mid-way near a field of sunflowers. So many sunflower fields!
Pretty nice place for a picnic:

How could these little angels be causing any trouble at all?

Seriously - the Pyrenees portion of our trip has been the most challenging so far. DD#2 has been rather explosive at times.

We arrived in Argeles Gazost around 4:30 and had time to unwind in our hotel room. We had a balcony and bunk-beds. Two positives. Our balcony is the one nearest the hotel sign:

We’re without a refrigerator and pool this time though. We walked a short distance to the town center and had a casual dinner. We still find ourselves opening most restaurants when they start serving around 7:30.

We had a drink while we waited for dinner service. On the way to the café, we noticed a fresh milk vending machine. No way! The milk was from a local farm and came in a plastic bag for 1 Euro. We brought it into the restaurant and the kids drank vending machine milk with dinner.

I finally tried cassoulet for dinner. It’s a regional dish which is basically fancy pork ‘n beans. Some foodies are surely wincing at that description! I liked it though. I don’t believe I’ve had beans since leaving the US.

Around 10pm we all heard the loudest thunderclap ever! The kids cried and I was pretty scared as well. The thunderstorm went on for quite some time. Quite a show.

Wednesday July 13th – A rainy drive up Tour de France mountains

We had a slow morning after a restless night. We meandered up to a café for pastries and coffee. Prices are pretty reasonable in this town that caters to cyclists and hikers. On several occasions, I have felt like the token American family on display. Some older French folks openly stare at us. They aren’t exactly scowling or smiling so I’m unsure what they’re thinking about our American family.

It rained cats and dogs all day long. We were all a little moody but finally got in the car to explore a couple of the common Tour de France peaks – Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor. This turned out to be a lot of fun! The roads were ridiculously narrow and shared with free-roaming livestock. I got such a kick out of seeing cows, sheep, pigs, and goats up close and personal! The kids were thoroughly amused.

The tunnels dug into the mountains were amazing! DH and I tried to imagine how the cyclists would be blazing down this same road in just two days. The road was just plain scary in some spots. No guard-rails and very steep cliffs.

The top of the d’Aubisque was all ready for the tour with giant bicycles! It was literally raining sideways at the top. We were soaked getting our few quick pics.
When we returned, I snuck out for a short while to shop around town. I found a cute skirt to add to my small wardrobe. I’m getting tired of wearing the same things!

After the much-needed break from the munchkins, I took them out for a soak in the hot tub. DD#1 loved practicing her underwater hand stands.

I returned to the hotel, dried off, and had dinner at a pizza place. The day was rather uneventful and we spent time in our hotel room watching it rain. The kids needed some downtime and we were plain tired. DD#2 had the tantrum of all tantrums this evening. That is all I will say because I refuse to relive and remember the details. Thank goodness for having a bottle of wine in the room.

Thursday July 14th – Bastille Day!

Finally – we all slept well after a tough start to our evening. We slept late (a pattern, I know) and made our way to a boulangerie for more pastries and coffee. DH was leaving us for the day – with the car – to see a mountain stage on the tour! We opted to stay in town and visit an animal park. We stopped by the Carrefour for snacks and DH dropped us at the Animal Park.

Although visiting zoos wasn't high on my list, this one fit the bill for our day. It wasn’t crowded, the kids were entertained, we were outside walking (rain stopped today!), and the animals seemed more accessible in France. They actually fed and pet marmots! The bears were impressive.


We walked back to the town center and had yummy cakes for lunch. We had snacked on healthier things earlier – really! I grabbed some fruit at the store to balance the cake. The kids played at the town park for a long time and then we soaked in the hot tub at our hotel.

Meanwhile, DH was still up a mountain – Luz-Ardiden to be exact. He parked pretty far away and hiked a couple of hours where he was 3km from the finish line! He took many many pictures - here are just a few:
Here are the two riders in the lead:

Levi Leipheimer

Take a look at all these switchbacks going up the mountain! People camp out for a couple of days to get the best spot.

On our way to dinner, we saw a TON of tour vehicles and police coming through town. The gas station just out our window was taken over by official tour vehicles.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was DD#1's loose tooth! She is over 6 1/2 and still hasn't lost a tooth. A bottom front tooth is finally loose.

The kids and I had a casual dinner in town. Behavior seemed to be returning back to normal and we all had a nice day.

July 15th - Another Tour de France stage!

We packed up our things, loaded up the car, and headed up the hill into Argeles-Gazost for one last breakfast. It was a sunny day at last!

The Tour de France had taken over the town! Carrefour Supermarkets is a large sponsor and had a coloring station for the kids. They sat and colored for quite a while not knowing that they would earn a huge pile of loot for their efforts! They got a stash of colored pencils, hats, air cooler devices, pencil box, etc... They could barely carry the haul!

The kids also played on inflatable toys. DD#1 is actually inside of that giant bowling ball!

After we wandered the Tour de France "village", we set off for a level #4 climb early in the stage. We took some narrow backroads and walked up part of a hill. It wasn't long before the tour caravan came through. This is a huge parade with cars (floats) made by sponsors. They threw out free loot to those spectators whooping it up. Being loud Americans, it was no problem attracting plenty of attention and getting a ridiculous pile of free stuff! The highlights were two jerseys, 6-8 hats (haven't counted), food, magnets, etc... I'll try to take a picture of our haul later.

We really did have a great view of the riders.

After the Tour madness, we drove 2-3 hours to Bordeaux. We reserved a chain-type hotel on the outskirts of town for our short night. It was interesting using their automated check-in system. We got a key-code, room number, and paid for the room with a computer outside the hotel. We burned off some energy in a forest park complete with exercise equipment and found a nice cafe for crepes and omelettes.

Tomorrow we are headed to Normandy for a week-long stay in a gite! We are so so excited for two bedrooms and a kitchen. I can't wait to stock up in a supermarket. Naturally it's almost 1am. We're keeping strange hours mostly because it's light until after 10pm. Also we're on vacation!

Random thoughts - my children will not use these standing-only self-flushing toilets. I don't blame them.

Also, I love how the grocery stores carry small boxes of crackers and nuts, etc... The US sells giant sizes of everything. It's nice buying a small package of crackers that we can eat without carting around forever.

Posted by familyineurope 14:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]