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Continuing with our visit of Oslo …, the Nobel Peace Center (see previous post here) is at the start of Aker Brygge.

Aker Brygge is a part of the Sentrum area, just west of Oslo down town.  It is known for its piers, where eateries with outdoor tables serve international cuisine, or casual fare like burgers and steak. It is one of the most visited area of Norway.

It was the former ship yard of Akers Mekaniske Verksted, which ceased operations in 1982.

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A few old industrial buildings were demolished, while several of the major workshop halls were rebuilt as shopping areas. The first step of the construction was finished in 1986.

The area was reorganized between 2010 and 2014.

A popular summer boat bar is moored nearby, and ferries depart year-round for the scenic Oslo Fjord. There were locals and tourists around even in mid-winter – it must be really fun in the summer.

The new development included an inside street, going through the main buildings. Aker Brygge area today consists of 13 separate units.

Local cultural draws include the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (designed by Renzo Piano, see next post).

Tyuvholmen is the area located on a peninsula sticking out from Aker Brygge into the Oslofjord.

The first element of the name is tjuv = ‘thief’, the last element is the finite form of holme = ‘islet’. Thieves were executed here in the 18th century. An older (Danish) spelling of the name was “Tyveholmen”.

The name for a modern hotel on the islet –  The Thief – also originates from this history.

It was a good 20 minutes walk from the Nobel Peace Center to here.

At the tip of the peninsula is the Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park. The park’s concept was designed by Renzo Piano and developed in conjunction with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

We did not have time to walk out to the beach but the sunset was spectacular.

Take a look inside the Astrup Fearnley museum in our next post.

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After our visit to Tromsø, we spent a few days in the capital of Norway.

In Oslo, the Nobel Peace Center which was 5 minutes walk from our hotel. It is located in the former Oslo Vestbanestasjon (Oslo West railway station) train station building from 1872, close to the Oslo City Hall and overlooking the harbor.

The Nobel Peace Center opened in the heart of Oslo, Norway on 11 June 2005. It is a center where you can experience and learn about the various Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and their activities as well as the remarkable history of Alfred Nobel.

They used the wall outside too. The building behind the wall is not part of the Center.

The Nobel Peace Prize (Nobels fredspris) is one of the five Nobel Prizes created by the Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature.

Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

The biographies and careers of Nobel Peace Prize laureates can be summoned and replayed on a video system.

The center also serve as voice and meeting place where exhibits, discussions and reflections related to war, peace and conflict resolution is in focus. Obama is here.

The Center combines exhibits and films with digital communication and interactive installations.

The Center has a small book and souvenir shop. Good selection.

In our opinion, the individual exhibits were done well but the overall experience of the visit was underwhelming.

Another highlight of this trip up north is to see reindeers.  We joined a tour to visit a reindeer farm located about an hour’s drive inland from Tromsø.

Reindeer pull a sleigh through the night sky to help Santa Claus deliver gifts to good children on Christmas Eve. We see them on festive cards and decorations.

None had a red nose or responded to the call of Rudolph.

It was around midday when we got there. The sky was steel grey with a hint of pink in the direction of the sun.

According to Wikipedia, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as the caribou in North America, is a species of deer that is native to Arctic, sub-Arctic, tundra, boreal and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia and North America. Some populations are sedentary and the ones we saw are migratory.

Upon arrival, after getting off the bus, we were led to a shed where we were provided with an extra layer of waterproof one-piece outerwear because the temperature was around -20°C. It was the coldest afternoon I had ever experienced in my life.

We were allowed to pet the reindeer when we were inside the fenced area.

All were keen to approach us since we had food in our hands.

The reindeer loved lichen, presumably one of the very few things the reindeers can find and eat on the frozen tundra.

They were not shy with the lichens but did not like people touching them. Many of them are youngsters.

The tour was run by ethnic Sami people. The Sami’s have historically been known in English as the Lapps or the Laplanders, but the guide explained that these terms are perceived as derogatory as they mean “rag” or small pieces of textile.

They made hot tea for us in the tent and also explained various aspects of nomadic life while passing around traditional artifacts.

We sat in a “sleigh” made of slabs of wooden planks crudely made to form a frame and a platform, covered by animal skin.  The reindeer were pulling us just like how the Sami’s or Santa Clause was transported.

Overall, we had fun but the reindeer “sleigh” ride was not as exciting as we thought. It was similar to the speed of a donkey ride. We could have walked faster. Rides pulled by dogs (huskys) would have been more energetic.

We had two main objectives on this trip to Tromsø in Norway: Northern lights (aurora borealis) and reindeers.

We joined a lights-chasing tour one night – spent four hours with a “guide” who directed the driver to take us inland, looking for a cloud-free patch of night sky. There were plenty of stars, and even a galaxy(?- Chris saw a small hazy oval patch), but no aurora.

On the next night, we saw the Northern Lights from our balcony, appearing behind the mountain across the harbor – it was weak but visible and persisted for about 15 minutes. This is the best Northern lights photo from the whole trip.

We stayed in Tromsø over Christmas  – practically everything was closed for a couple of days, including that what appears to be the city’s main souvenir store.

A Christmas tree in the town center park.

Did you know that the giant Christmas tree at New York’s Rockerfellar Centre is a gift from Norway every year ?

Most of our activities were centered around the Radisson Blu hotel and Scandic Ishavshotel, both next to the port. This spot was effectively the center of town for those few days – most people that were out and about were tourists. All the tours including those originating from the cruise ships started from there.

Tromsø was selected by the Norwegian National Olympic Committee as Norway’s candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics. This would have made Tromsø the first city north of the Arctic Circle to host the games. In 2008, the NOC suspended Tromsø’s bid, citing excessive costs

Arctic hunting, from Novaya Zemlya to Canada, started up around 1820. Tromsø was the major centre of Arctic hunting and became a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated.

Hence, there is a Polar Museum (Polarmuseet i Tromsø) by the harbor with all sorts of seal hunting and polar bear trapping paraphenalia.

Lots of histories and stories about life on Svalbard and explorations to the north pole.

View of the bridge that connects the island to the mainland.

Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen, literally “The Cathedral of the Arctic Sea”) across the harbor is a landmark for the city.

Dedicated in 1965, glass mosaic added 1972 and new organ installed 2005.

Modern, simple, severe.

Tromsø is a port of call for the Hurtigruten.

Hurtigruten (literally The Fast Route) is a ferry line along Norway’s jagged coastline. Originally, Hurtigruten was used as a means of transportation for passengers, goods and mail along the coast of Norway. The ships still transport a limited amount of cargo, but today the ships resemble cruise ships more closely than the original coastal steamers.

The southbound ships arrive at 23:45, and depart at 01:30 in the night, to Finnsnes, … Lofoten, Trondheim and Bergen all year round. MS Nordnorge has her own on-board Expedition Team and serves as a university at sea.

Tromsø’s city’s library.

It would be nice to come back in the summer. Things will look so differently.

 

Before spring arrives, we want to post these pictures before they become out of season. We went to Norway over Christmas.

Our first destination was Tromsø in Northern Norway – at the top of the Scandinavian land mass.

It is the third largest urban area north of the Arctic Circle (following Murmansk and Norilsk). Most of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the island of Tromsøya, 350 kilometres (217 mi) north of the Arctic Circle.

In the city centre, the sun is not visible between November 21 and January 21. We arrived around noon – the brightest time of the day.

The city is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. The temperature was fairly constant at around -10 degrees celsius. Thankfully it was not windy.

We rented an apartment south of the city center.

Our apartment building looks like the one above except that ours faces the harbor with a balcony above the water.

This area is full of new buildings unlike the older town center that is famous for its wooden houses.

The view across the harbor is the mainland.

A cable car goes up to Mount Storsteinen, 420 metres (1,380 feet) above sea level, with a panoramic view over Tromsø.

All kinds of ships passed by all hours of the day.

Our apartment has two bedrooms and a large living/dining room that opens to the balcony (one can sit outside and stare at the harbor, if there was no snow on the outdoor furniture).

The apartment was about 10-15 minutes walk from the city center. We trekked back and forth many times.

On the way, we passed the Polaria – a museum/aquarium – a touristy place for the cruise ship crowd – the building looked like a toppled deck of tiles or books.

The streets were largely empty due to the holidays.

This is Tromsø’s cathedral – built in 1861 largely with wood.

More pictures to come.

I(Chris) spent a day in Rotterdam and walked from the Maritime Museum to the Museumpark along the street Witte de Withstraat. Part 1 covers the shops, bars and restaurants on Witte de Withstraat.

Museumpark is an urban landscaped park located between the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Westersingel, Westzeedijk and the complex of the Erasmus medical center in central Rotterdam. The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the Kunsthal, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Chabot Museum, and the Natural History Museum (Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam) are all located there and connected with each other by this landscaped park.

First, the establishments – the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (see a dedicated post later)

Chabot Museum is home to one of the most important collections of Dutch expressionist painter and sculptor Henk Chabot (1894-1949).  The white villa was built in 1938 and represents a highpoint of the functionalist ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’ (New Construction) style of architecture. It was designed by Gerrit Willem Baas and Leonard Stokla in 1938 as a private residence.

Chabot Museum’s next door neighbor – there are a few more houses/villa that are built in this style in the area. But I couldn’t tell if it was built around the same time as the Chabot museum or it is a later emulation.

In Het Nieuwe Instituut – the Museum of Architecture, Design and Digital Culture – shows temporary exhibitions with a recurring theme of innovation. The museum examines the designed world and how it is constantly being changed by new technologies, new ideas and shifting social priorities. The concept is similar to that of the MAAT in Lisbon – click here for our earlier post.

Instead of a lawn, the institute has a pond covered in algae in front of it. Look carefully, it is green water.

The institute has a modern and comfy cafe

… but the bookstore (not so much a shop, but more like an open market) was closed. The stalls were all covered up.

The park was designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA in close collaboration with the French landscape architect Yves Brunier and the designer Petra Blaisse.

The park has a very innovative design: four zones – a paved zone; a romantic zone with trees, flowers and a pedestrian bridge (just visible above); a city zone which is covered in asphalt and often used for public events; and a well-tended orchard area.

I used all my time in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen so the Kunsthal was closed by the time I got to it.

Although it is not eye-catching like a work by Gehry, this is a masterpiece of architecture by Rem Koolhass –  read more about it here: https://www.kunsthal.nl/en/about-kunsthal/building/

One of the sculptures outside the Kunsthal.

The city’s Natural History Museum is next door.

As I walked back towards the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, one can see the other side of the museum where Claes Oldenburg’s Screwarch is installed.

I read somewhere that the ponds and fountains in this park are designed to act as buffers to prevent flooding of the city.

The green and built spaces around the park are really harmonious.

I will definitely come back to have a closer look at the museums and relax with a drink at the establishments on Witte de Withstraat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I(Chris) spent a day in Rotterdam after a meeting in The Hague, which is only a short train ride away.

Rotterdam is actively marketing itself as a popular destination for international visitors, an alternative to Amsterdam. It was built around the river Rotte in 1270 and grew rapidly over the centuries but in 1940, during World War II, the entire city center was destroyed by bombs.

The city was rebuilt, opting to break from the past, and commits itself to contemporary architecture.

Witte de Withstraat is a street which connects the Maritime Museum (just visible in the photo below) with the Museumpark.

It is the cultural center of the city which is full of restaurants, bars, museums and interesting shops.

“Work hard, play here” at the Metropole Cafe

I was there in the afternoon so that the seating areas of the bars and restaurants were somewhat empty.

But one can imagine that the place must be really fun at night.

The street is the scene.

Somebody proposed to Sam with this graphics ? Cool.

And there is of course a Dutch “coffeeshop” nearby, this one with subway-style turnstiles ! (not clearly visible in the photo) and a sauna/massage salon next door.

These establishments are facing an open park, so it is not at all sleazy as it may sound.

This sculpture of Sylvette by Picasso marks the beginning of the Museumpark.

See part 2 for the next segment of this thoroughfare.

 

 

 

 

Dear Readers,

It has been a tradition of this blog to take a look back at some of the places we visited last year. In Part 1, we posted photos of places we visited in the second half of 2017. Here are the places we visited in the first half.

As you will see, we went to the two other capitals on the British Isle, the administrative center of the Netherlands, and the wine capital of France.

Click on links, where provided to read more about the places of interest. There are usually a series of related posts per location, you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

In reverse chronological order:

Loch Ness, Scotland in June

Edinburgh, Scotland, June

Glasgow, Scotland, June

Cardiff, Wales, June

The Game and the Castle

The Hague (Scheveningen), Netherlands, May

St. Emillion, France, in April on our Alps-Atlantic drive with A and F

Biarritz, France in April, the Atlantic !

Bordeaux, France in April

Arcachon, France in April

So this is goodbye 2017.

Where will we end up this year ? … if all go as planned, it will be more exotic and involve longer distances in 2018.

Dear Readers, Happy New Year !

This is our first post of 2018. It is a tradition of this blog to take a look back at some of the places we visited last year. Overall, we traveled less in 2017 than 2016, at least in terms of distance traveled. We did not leave Europe after our Hong Kong trip concluded in January 2017. But we entered the Arctic Circle, visited the capital of Norway, England, France and Portugal.

Click on links, where provided to read more about the places of interest. There are usually a series of related posts per location, you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

In reverse chronological order:

Oslo, Norway, December-January – Astrup Fearnley Museum

Tromsø, Norway, December – 350 km inside the Arctic Circle

London, December – overnight business trip

Paris, France, December – on the Grande Roue

Lisbon, Portugal – attended a conference at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown

Rotterdam, Netherlands, in November – outside the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Lucerne, Switzerland, August – with S&J + family

Panorama from Mount Rigi above Lake Lucene

Verbier, Switzerland in September for business

Aix-les-bains, France in July with friends

Travels in first half of 2017 to come in part 2.

 

Just before catching my mid-afternoon flight home from Lisbon, I (Chris) had a walk through this place and a quick bite with a bunch of new friends (J, K, L, R & S). It was a really fun two hours.

I took most of the text posted here from its web site, click here to visit.

“It’s in the year 1846 that a threads and fabrics Company called “Companhia de Fiação e Tecidos Lisbonense”, one of the most important manufacturing complex in Lisbon’s history, sets in Alcântara. This 23.000 m2 industrial site was, subsequently, occupied by a set of industrial use related companies.”

It was Sunday and the place was packed with rural farmers selling fruits and vegetables.

Artists and craftsman selling their work.

A giant fly on the wall of a hostel within the grounds.

Not Rio, it’s Lisbon.

Plenty of street art.

A mural that stretches across one side of a large warehouse.

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“An urban fragment, kept hidden for years, is now returned to the city in the form of LXFactory. A creative island occupied by corporations and professionals of the industry serves also has stage for a diverse set of happenings related to fashion, publicity, communication, fine arts, architecture, music, etc., attracting numerous visitors to rediscover Alcântara through an engaged dynamics.”

Among the shops, eateries and offices, a company installed two escape rooms – “LX Escape – Burlesque Edition” – click to see the backstory of the escape rooms here. We wanted to do it but decided to have lunch first. But then I had to leave … and later my friends decided to see Fado with dinner instead. Well, it means the escape rooms are waiting for me to return.

There are quite a few buildings on the site and I did not have the time to walk through them.

I wonder what’s the story behind these images …

It must remind people of Covent Garden or Camden Lock in London. See also our posts on similar ideas of retail/art projects: Common Ground in Seoul and PMQ in Hong Kong.

Great project. It works. Every city needs at least one of these.

One evening after the day’s meetings are over, I(Chris) and friends walked along the Belém waterfront from the conference venue to a gala dinner. Here are some of the photos taken during the walk.

We started from the Fundação Champalimaud at the western end of the waterfront – the sun was setting.

The Monument to the Veterans from Overseas (Aos Combatentes do Ultramar) was the next landmark.

I believe there are soldiers standing guard at this monument from time to time.

Our next sight is the famous Torre de Belem. The tower was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The tower was built in the early 16th century on a small island in the River Targus near the Lisbon shore.

The tower was built by the military architect Francisco de Arruda, who had already supervised the construction of several fortresses in Portuguese territories in Morocco. The influence of Moorish architecture is manifested in the delicate decorations, the arched windows, the balconies, and the ribbed cupolas of the watchtowers.

A modern waterside cafe

Continuing our walk eastbound after passing a small park, we came to a marina.

On the other side of the marina is the Altis Belém Hotel.

Then the Belém lighthouse … a historical landmark

Then, there was the Museu de Arte Popular. It has to be said that this is a sad looking building when it is compared to the others on the waterfront.  Notice the black cable that runs across the facade of the entrance ? Enough said.

Our dinner was at the Espaço Espelho d’Água – a truly beautiful place, we had an apéro followed by dinner.

Entrance to the venue.

From the terrace of the venue … sculpture in a pool in front of the river

The Espaço has a small art gallery at its entrance.

… and a bar that was completely shrouded in vegetation.

On the far side of the Espaço is the Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) which celebrates the Portuguese age of exploration in the 15th and 16th century. The main statue is that of Henry the Navigator.

Further into the distance, one can see the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and the National Sanctuary of Christ the King (Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei) on the hill.

If one continues to walk (which we did not), the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology is not far (see earlier post about this new landmark).

 

 

Scheveningen Beach (Strandweg) is Holland’s most famous seaside resort. And being only 15 minutes from the center of The Hague (Den Haag), it is being used year around by residents and visitors.

The beach faces the North Sea (which is generally not known for fine weather). I imagine it must be quite a change from day to day and season to season.

The water was probably too cold for bathing in early May when I was there.

Presumably, this was low tide. What a wide beach, see how much sand there was between the water and the umbrellas.

Beach club. The beach is at least 1 km long.

It has an abundance of attractions and beach pavilions. The Pier offers visitors a unique experience in a historical location. Scheveningen was mentioned in records as early as the 1200’s.

The Pier offers broad thoroughfares, both outdoor and enclosed, bars, clubs and traditional food trucks, a Ferris wheel, a zip line, a bungie jumping tower, and hotel suites.

From this photo, it looks like I was on a cruise ship.

At the end of the Pier is the hotel (De Pier Suites, I think).

The Ferris wheel is over forty meters high and has 36 closed gondolas with air conditioning (otherwise too cold and windy in the winter!).

Looks rather dramatic.

Visitors can zip line (side by side) down the 55 meter high Bungy tower on the Pier reaching a speed of 60-80 kilometres per hour. The total distance is 350 meters.

I can imagine this place to be packed and really fun and lively in the summer, especially in the evening.

Bungie jumping is facilitated by a crane which moves a cage that serve as a platform for the jump. There was an attendant manning the cage who probably whispers words of encouragement to those who become cowardly at the last minute.

We have been to two other beaches in Europe this year – click to see Biarritz and Arcachon (also has Ferris wheel on the beach).

 

In June, we went to Cardiff to see the Champions League final match between Real Madrid and Juventus. Real won.

We stayed an extra day and visited the famous Cardiff Castle which is in the middle of the city. It was also used as to host hospitality services to sponsors of the match and their guests.

The Castle was a Roman fort, has an impressive Norman castle and an extraordinary Victorian Gothic fantasy palace, created by art-architect William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, one of the world’s richest men at his time.  The Bute family brought prosperity to Cardiff by exporting coal all over the world.

In 1947 the Castle was given to the people of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.

Within the walls of the Castle are tunnels which came into their own as air-raid shelters during the Second World War.

The Norman castle has an outer walls which provides a shell for smaller buildings within it.

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From the top of the Keep, one has panoramic views of the city of Cardiff.

The stadium is just visible behind the clock tower.

The house was renovated in 1865 and the process lasted 16 years. There are a number of opulent, highly decorated rooms in the main house.

The Arab Room is stunning.

Almost a theme park but this is real – somebody with serious money lived in it.

The house is being used to host various functions, both governmental and private.

We walked through the library where they had shelves full of old or antique books, all topics from science to literature. E.g., a set of books about English gardens in four seasons.

The Clock Tower was built on the site of a Roman bastion and completed in 1875.

It is a great tourist attraction.

Cymru !

Continuing with our trip to the West, from the Alps to the Atlantic …

From Arcachon, we took a ferry across the bay to Cap Ferret.

Cap Ferret is a headland which takes the form of a spit, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from Arcachon Bay.

Lots of people took their bike across as there are good beach and forest trials (so we hear).

By the time we bought the ticket and waited for the boat, it was past 4pm. And the last boat to come back to Arcachon would leave in less than 30 minutes, which was the time we had on that side of the bay.

The place really deserved some slow quiet exploration. Oh well, it was a rush for us but the trip across the bay was pleasant and relaxing.

This region is a haven for wildlife. Islands within the bay include the isle of birds (‘L’ile aux Oiseaux’) and a protected nature sanctuary  – Banc d’Arguin, a landing ground for migrating terns.

Next to the ferry landing are restaurants, bars and ice cream parlors – low key but popular. Holiday homes are further behind.

After we and many daytrippers left on the last boat, the place must be quieter and cozier.

Conde Nast Traveller has a really nice piece about Cap Ferret.

According to the article, the place is like a European Martha’s Vineyard. Don’t confuse it with Cap Ferrat another beach town which is located on the Mediterranean shore of France.

The place that we missed is Dune du Pilat – the tallest dune in Europe, with sand stretching one and a half miles long and piled 350 feet high. Not visible in the photo below, there were wind-assisted sand surfing on the dunes.

The completely white stretch of shore in the photo is it. One can drive to the bottom of it and climb to the top by stairs.

Because it was the last boat back to Arcachon, the line to get on the boat was long but every one was in good spirit and the weather was cooperating.

The pier on the Arcachon side later that day.

Arcachon was developed as a resort in the 19th century, and the promenade is populated with large hotels – some with a fancy façade but most are efficient modern constructions.

The big hotels, the shopping streets behind them and the wide, sandy beaches in front are all part of the ville d’été (summer town), the district of Arcachon designed to accommodate and amuse Victorian holiday makers arriving on the train from Bordeaux.

When we were there, Easter was still a bit too chilly for sea-bathing.

The streets were packed with people, however. We were lucky to have found underground parking near the beach after some searching.

We did not have time to explore the ville d’hiver (winter town) which has beautiful splendid mansion so we read in a guide afterwards. Some are visible from the water while we were crossing the bay to Cap Ferret (see later post).

The ferry pier after the last boat service was quiet.

We could not resist the Ferris wheel – never been on one that is on the beach.

For the first revolution, because the sea is featureless, we did not really see/feel how quickly we rose in altitude.

Tiny people we saw … it happened surprisingly quickly.

 

Near the top, looking towards Arcachon Bay …

Very quickly we found ourselves at the very top – the view was magnifique and the breeze was so refreshing. Unforgettable.

Looking towards the mouth of the Bay … we couldn’t quite see the Atlantic which is on the other side of the peninsula.

Before Google Earth, the quiet aerial view of any place, let alone a beach town, at this height must have been so unique.

We will try to go on more in the future, for now, see our other Ferris wheel experience in Vienna, London, and Lyon.

 

 

 

 

While we were staying in Bordeaux-Medoc, we decided to go to the Atlantic coast and visit Arcachon (more about Arcachon in a later post).

To avoid traffic on the main highway, we detoured according to our GPS and drove along D650. Since the landscape is flat, D650 is almost mathematically straight and run parallel to the main highway. We recommend you follow us on Google map as the above map is too small to see it on the post.

The area’s main business apart from tourism is oyster farming in Arcachon Bay (Bassin d’Arcachon). The road runs along the southern shore of the bay linking a number of oyster farming villages. We stopped off at the port of Larros where there is a jetty promenade.

The bay covers an area of 150 km² at high tide and 40 km² at low tide. Obviously we arrived when the tide was low. It was a mess but there was no smell.

The port offered a view that we have not seen before. Boats were moored and beached, until the tidal water returns. Acres of mud as far as the eye can see and in less than 12 hours, all submerged (we assume).

The mud was apparently solid enough for people to walk out. Love to make a time-lapse video of the returning and receding tide.

This bay is the largest oyster culture area in France – “Ostréiculture arcachonnaise” – it even has its own wikipedia entry.

According to Wikipedia, wild oysters have always been collected and consumed there, as evidenced by some writings dating from the Gallo – Roman period. The oyster which was then found in the bay was the flat oyster, or “gravette” (Ostrea edulis). The official exploitation of oysters began in 1849.

Several different species of oysters dominated the bay in succession, first the Portugese Crassostera angulata in 1868 after the flat oysters were decimated by disease in 1920’s, then in the early 1970’s viral outbreaks killed most of the oysters in the bay. It threatened all the farms in the area.

Later it was decided to introduce a Japanese species Crassostrea gigas which is the only species raised today. The jetty has a roll of small buildings presumably housing all the equipment for oyster farming. Some were left rusting outside.

Lining the sides of the jetty are several large oyster bars – but they served a very limited menu. “La Tradition” on the menu includes twelve No. 3 oysters, bread and wine, 19 euros. This is as fresh as one can get but no discount here.

We were hungry and went to a proper restaurant – Les Viviers.

Our 12 No. 2’s.

This was how one gentleman ate his seafood platter solo at Les Viviers.

This lucky fisherman caught a mermaid in his cage.

After lunch, we continued our journey to Arcachon.

Continuing with our Easter Alps to Atlantic trip …

After Saint-Emilion, we headed south directly to Biarritz by-passing the city of Bordeaux (which we would later visit). The drive down A63 was easier, a lot less twists and turns, and the landscape is flat. This area, Landes is part of an estuary but looks a bit like Florida, for different geological reasons.

The day we arrived, the weather was incredibly warm – every one rushed onto the beach – we suspect that most of the people on the beach were locals as the tourists had not yet descended on this place.

Yoga on the beach sponsored by a local radio station.

Biarritz is a beach town on the Côte Basque, French surfing mecca, resort for royalties since the 1800’s, and only 15 miles from the Spanish border.  It is only 50 kilometers from Donostia-San Sebastian where we visited last summer, see here and here.

Our hotel room offered an incredible beach view. We could hear the surf all night.

The colors of the sky and the sea changed quite dramatically during our stay. In front of the hotel is a plaza and a rusty modern sculpture.

It was quiet at night. From a distance, one can see the lighthouse.

The lighthouse – Phare de Biarritz – is dramatic with its sweeping searchlight.

On the waterfront separating the Grand Plage and the Plage du Miramar (not visible) is the Hôtel du Palais (the brightly lit building above), the city’s landmark luxury resort and former royal residence.

A symbol of Biarritz, the Rocher de la Vierge is a rocky outcrop topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Reachable via a footbridge built in 1887 by Gustave Eiffel, who is also known to have worked in the capital.

Looking across the Grand Plage late afternoon, the Rocher and footbridge were just visible through the holes and arches in the rocks.

Rock arches.

The above has been predicted to collapse in a few years time.

Surf class

These kayaks came from somewhere, landed on the beach for a while and then paddled back out and left in minutes  …

According to the New York Times, this beach town is back in vogue since its popularity peaked in the 1950’s. The newspaper article (here) was published in May 2017 – two months after we visited Biarritz – we were literally ahead of the Times. <wink>

Lots more photos to come …

 

 

A few more snapshots …

Saint-Emilion is on the east in the Bordeaux wine region and the right bank of the Dordogne. In the region, there are 5400 hectares for growing vines, 800 wine estates and 127 that are listed and opened to the public.

The vineyards of Saint-Emilion are ancient. Back in the Roman times – as early as the second century, vines were planted to take advantage of the limestone soil and temperate oceanic climate (no temperature extremes and rainfall well distributed throughout the year).

Saint-Emilion was ruled by a jurade – a council of local notables – until the French Revolution. In 1948, the council was turned into a guild to promote the wines of the appellation.

For a thousand years, Saint-Emilion exported its limestone for construction use leaving behind underground quarries and miles of tunnels – some becoming wine cellars. This Cave is next to our hotel and uses the remaining defensive wall as a part of the cellar.

There are 3 levels of quality in the classification of Saint-Emilion wines – Grand Cru Classé, 1er Grand Cru Classé B and 1er Grand Cru Classé A (highest).

We have never seen such a range of bottle sizes.

And there is the Comptoir des vignoble in the village main street which deals in high-end wines and has a monolith cellar from the 12th century.

It lists the prices, like stock prices, of four famously good and expensive wines by the vintage year, Chateaux d’Yquem, Mouton, Cheval Blanc and Petrus, outside at its entrance. Petrus 2009 was listed at around 3500 euro.

Another wine store – Merchant of Thirst

We had dinner at L’Envers du Décor which was recommended by the hotel receptionist.

All the tables and several walls were covered with the ends of wine box which were stamped with the name of the wine it contained and its origin.

The wine we ordered – its box happened to appear on our table top.

Fun place.

Saint-Emilion is a popular place because of its environment, history and produce. The communes of Saint-Emilion, there are 22 of them, extends over 238 sq km between Libourne and Castillon-la-Bataille, and bound to the south by the Dordogne river.

The town is named after a monk named Emilion (duh) who came to settle in the 8th century.

We really like it because it is small enough for one to see the entire town which is surrounded by vineyards as far as the eyes can see.

There were numerous monasteries, convents and churches in the region attracting various schools of monks and nuns – Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, Ursulines. It also welcomed pilgrims of the Santiago de Compostela trail which is not far from the area.

There were a fair amount of restoration of houses in the small town but they all seem harmoniously done.

The UNESCO designation in 1999 helped preserved the local ancient practices of wine-making and many old buildings.

This is a old lavoir, a public place set aside for the commune to wash clothes. They were essential until laundromats and private plumbing made them obsolete.  We really liked the set up – a raised lip around a shallow pool of flowing water and a sheltered section.

The center of the village in front of the monolith church and market hall. It was a lively cheerful public place. We did not see the church – a 12 th century building dug into the limestone plateau and whose current structure still forms a single block. We were in fact standing atop of it when the photos was taken.

We are sure the scene is quite common but for urban dwellers like us it felt a tiny bit Renoir-esque.

The “castel daou rey ” meaning the King’s Keep is a romanesque tower, built in the 12th century, where it might have served as the city hall in the past.

Part 2 to come.

Our first night of the 2017 Alps-to-Atlantic trip was spent in Saint-Emilion.  This small medieval village is known for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and extremely well known for its red wine.

Our hotel “Au Logis des Remparts” is located at the edge of the village center and was built using a part of the remaining defensive wall. The village is so small that the hotel’s location is essentially central.

There are three floors. There is an elevator for luggage but not people.

One can see parts of the rampart with a walkway on top and a stone parapet.

This village was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 and it was the first wine-making entity that was listed as a “cultural landscape”.

While our room is unremarkable, the garden is heavenly.

Geometrically-shaped trees in the middle.

We and our friends really like it and spent a good few hours lying on the lounge chairs, staring up at the trees, and falling asleep.

We had it all to ourselves.

Can’t remember the last time we had such a naturally serene and relaxing moment.

Since it was the beginning of the season, the owner was moving the sculptures around the garden looking for an optimal place to show them.

The pieces are apparently all available for sale.

The weather was perfect to be outside. But it is too cold for swimming.

The patio has the perfectly shaped shady olive tree (I think it is an olive tree).

We took our breakfast underneath it one morning.

Highly recommended.