Pierrefonds, France

Well, I know that you all have been screaming for a post from me, and as I was looking for past ideas, I stumbled onto this post which, well, never quite made it, so here you go! I'll get another post to you later.

Near the end of our thousand-plus kilometer venture, we found this small town, Pierrefonds. Pierrefonds is a small town located approximately NW of Paris by about 60-70 kilometers (35-40 miles). Overall our stay there was thoroughly enjoyable, we stayed at a "2-star hotel" but it felt more like a 4-star with the perfect view of the castle and surrounding country, a full size bathroom, and a location in central Pierrefonds. You may of noticed that I mentioned castle... well Pierrefonds has the biggest and most complete castle that I have ever seen. It features eight towers, a grand hall, chapel, an amazing crypt, along with the ability to go through the entire castle just by yourself, on a self guided tour. Frankly I find this amazing. In America it would probably be quarantined and "preserved," basically cut off from the people.

Another reason that I find Pierrefonds so wonderful though is that it is so well kept. Flowers on the tables, lawn cut, and all the stones perfect and polished. It really is something else. My experience was that the whole castle was incredibly surreal, and I found it intriguing to imagine a cart being hauled up the path by a donkey, traders calling their wares. The entire experience is amazing, right from it's origins.

In fact, Pierrefonds was originally built by Louis of Valois (the Duke of Orleans) and King Charles VI, in the late 1300's. But it was demolished two centuries later. The ruins sat there for centuries until they attracted the noice of Napoleon III, in the 1850's, who had it rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc in the medieval style. Initially they were actually only going to work on the keep (central fortress in the castle) and leave the rest in ruins, but over time they modified the plans to finish the castle. Pierrefonds was completed in 1884, finished but unfurnished because of the war of 1870. It still only has a few benches and chairs.

For me Pierrefonds was one of my favorite cities, and I will try to go again someday in my future. I could spend a good amount of time at this nice, historic, and quaint town, which is not only off the tourist tack, but overflowing with history.


weekend peek at Sienna

We have grandiose plans of seeing all of Tuscany. Will it happen? It remains to be seen.

It is certainly (certa) a good goal, nestled somewhere between settling into routine life in Florence---with school, soccer, and regular walks to food markets and espresso bars---and running all over to see everything.

We have been busier settling into school and soccer and our new apartment than we have been looking outward at the Tuscan hillsides. Though we did steal away to Fiesole for a day. And this past weekend grabbed the train to Sienna for an overnight.

A quaint hill town, Sienna is very well-kept and picturesque, with just a handful of must-see landmarks. We hopped into the Duomo of Sienna and around the Piazza del Campo, climbed tiny circular stairs up the to-be second facade of the church (there were plans to double the size of the church, and archways and museums highlighting the enormity of their goal).

And we ran into friends. How shocking to hear someone say your name, while traveling in a foreign country. A friend I had not seen---but had been very fond of---since graduate school (marriage & family therapy), was there celebrating an anniversary with her husband. And there we all were; so we grabbed a bottle of wine under an awning overlooking the plaza and carved out some time to catch up. Great to see you Layna!

Other highlights from Sienna: all the hanging laundry out the windows made for great photos, one very delicious meal (in contrast to one very non-delicious meal), and my first purchase of Tuscan pottery: a sangria pitcher (store link www.sangiovannistyle.it). Plus, we were intrigued with all the symbols for neighborhoods (Sienna is known, historically, for its strong neighborhoods): street lamps ran up and down streets, and were painted specific to the color codes and detail of each neighborhood.

Info: the great restaurant was La Taverna di Cecco. Skip the risotto but hail to the polenta, veal scallopini, cheese plate, wine... and ambiance. We had dinner there, then went back for lunch the next day. After a summer of lots-of-eating-out, we have learned that when you find a gem, stick to it. So we did.


Top 5 Memories from July 2009

Now that we have safely passed mid-September, it is time for me to stop procrastinating and write my memories.

To start with, what was NOT in one of my top memories: Hot Weather. We expected to be basking in the sun during our summer in central Europe; in fact, we had planned to ride early mornings to avoid the heat. However, it never happened (in fact, it rained frequently). The moderate Seattle-like weather turned out to be perfect cycling conditions for traversing the mountains of Belgium and France. If it had been 100 degrees, I suspect we may have never made it – a blessing in disguise.

Top 5 Memories for July 2009: Here it goes…

5. Maastricht Café Scene. Maastricht is the prototypical European city absent the crowds of American tourists. It is home to several universities that attract professors, students and visitors from across Europe (drawing a diverse group of people together). We spent days walking the city and soaking up the famous Maastricht Café Scene. Coffee shops and bars flood the streets throughout the city center, making Maastricht a fantastic place for people watching. Janelle and I went for walks every morning, then reposed in the afternoon with the boys at any café that caught our attention – simply reading, journaling or playing cards. We loved it! (see: Maaaahhhhstricht!)

4. Go-Karting. As sports enthusiasts, we are naturally adrenaline junkies. So we jumped at the opportunity to race go-karts in Mariemboug, Belgium. It was a much-needed diversion in the midst of high mountain plateaus. We had a fantastic time racing around the track, bumping each other and spinning out. It was an adrenaline rush that exceeded our expectations. Highly recommend it! (The only downside was that Janelle was ill that day and was unable to join us on the track).

3. Musee d’Orsay. Notwithstanding our go-kart addiction, we DO appreciate the arts. We had a fabulous time at the Musee d’Orsay. Unlike the Louvre (which spans millennia and all major geographical regions of the world), the Musee d’Orsay concentrates on the impressionist movement (late 1850 – 1915). The museum is easy to enjoy in a one-day visit to Paris (and much easier to tour than the Louvre). The Musee d’Orsay sparked hours of conversation for our family and inspired our boys: their sketchbooks are a friendly reminder that we’ll cherish.

2. Castle at Pierrefonds. Near the end of our cycling journey from Amsterdam to Paris, we cycled through “castle country” in Northern France (along the Oise River Valley). It was awesome! We saw countless castles and chateaus dotted across the French landscape. The last, and most impressive, was the Castle at Pierrefonds. Built, destroyed, rebuilt, bombed and restored again – this Castle has a timeless elegance that romanticizes knights and chivalry. Sitting on a hilltop above the quaint town of Pierrefonds, it looked like a movie set (in fact, Young Merlin is filmed here). We had a great time traipsing across the grounds, taking stations for battle, and imagining attacks and counter-attacks as archers and knights defending the keep. Fun! There was even a working catapult (about 20 feet in height) that looked like it was out of the Lord of the Rings. To top it off, the castle had an amazing display of tombs and sarcophagi in its bowels that were showcased by impressive lighting effects and holograms. See it for yourself if you are in Northern France. None of us will ever forget it.

1. Arriving in Paris after 1,398 kilometers of cycling (867 miles) from Amsterdam. Our last day of serious cycling was a lengthy 72-kilometer ride, but a capstone to a fantastic summer in the saddle. For many serious riders this journey would be an easy task, but for a family of four it was a long haul (each of us packing 40-50 lbs in our respective panniers). On the last day, we started in Senlis then made our way to East Paris (around the airport), then cycled in along one of major canals to the River Seine, landing at our apartment on Rue du Louvre. The ride was beautiful and there was a sense of elation (and relief) that we were about to enter Paris. It was great to finally “arrive” and get off the saddle – but bittersweet given that the journey was over. All in all, the days were long, but the trip was short. I already wish we were planning our next trip; it really was the trip of a lifetime.

Other memories that deserve honorable mention: watching the final stage of the Tour De France in Paris along the Champs-de-Ellyses, going to a late-night medieval theater production (in French) at Coucy le Chateau Auffrique, climbing 400+ stairs in Liege, Belgium in the pouring rain, playing “silent” Marco Polo (no calling) at a B&B swimming pool in Ambleny, assembling makeshift fishing poles from carved sticks, dental floss, paper clips and gummy bears (a tribute to Montana), climbing the final ascent into Laon, going up the Eiffel Tower, and eating our farewell Paris dinner on Pont des Arts (Bridge of the Arts).

Next, I hope to conquer the challenge of writing my Top Five memories for August 2009. ;)


our neighborhood museum.

The Bargello.

A block from where we live. The once-town hall, then prison, now museum of great artifacts rests only paces from our front door.

When you walk by its doors you can glean a peek inside the statuesque piazza. Just by putting your forehead against the window and gazing, you know you are seeing something significant.

It is stuffed with works from Donatello, Verrocchio, Giambologna, Cellini and Michelangelo. It includes original pieces, stunning bronze statues and a certain aloof quality. My favorite may be the Bacchus by Michelangelo (see Anthony in statue-mimicking pose in front of the Bacchus. I would not have posted this photo of him, BUT no photos were aloud and it was the only one I snapped before getting in trouble). The statue was amazing. Anthony could have posed for him, don't you think?

Giambologna made numerous bronze statues of birds [among other things]; check out the photo with Caleb. There was also a room called the 'ivory collection' with the most intricate, infinitesimal detailed ivory boxes, brushes and figures you can imagine, not to mention Donatello's bronze David---and Giambologna's bronze Mercury. Sigh. I need to go back and stare. What is that about?

These people in history are so timeless, so impressive, so notable, so 'I reached my potential and then some.' They are priceless not only in their artifacts, but also in pursuit of their potential...

In this year abroad, it has been our goal to make a difference in the life of our boys---and to nit-pick at our own souls about what to do with the rest of our lives/careers/passions/goals---it seems a bit 'in your face' to be visiting the likes of Van Gogh (Amsterdam), Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Amerigo Verspucci, the Medici family... stop me anytime... all who set the standard/define the benchmark/exceeded their capacity to contribute to the greater community, and left remnants behind to inspire the likes of us...

But more on our search for life's importance in posts to come. For now, we will bore you with details of reality, aka our daily life, and life abroad. In short, museums visited, piazzas encountered, gelatos tasted, ingredients uncovered (hey: I found baking soda!).

On another fascinating note, see that well we are standing in front of? We found a cool lizard scuttling about; sadly, he was too fast for the photo-op...


a day in Fiesole

Yikes---I am looking through pictures realizing we have seen so much of Florence... and documented too little.

These pictures are actually from a day we recently spent in Fiesole---the famous Etruscan hill town that preceded and now overlooks---Florence (8 kilometers north via bus).

In Fiesole, there are famous ruins of a roman amphitheater, including pools and ovens and baths. The best part of seeing the amphitheater was walking down the steps and standing exactly center stage, then projecting one's voice. The acoustics were astonishing. You would speak, no utter, some words and they would reverberate back to you. It was just... cool. Caleb thought it sounded like you were talking into a balloon, how it echos and vibrates and increases in sound all at once. It almost made you want to belt out and sing; actually it made me think of my brother and sister-in-law who frequent the stage. And the history, and importance, of theater through the ages.

We also simply walked around the little city, through a little market in the piazza (where I bought lampone [raspberry] preserves, and 3 little jars of honey---named after the specific flowers the bees suckled in order to make the honey: sunflower, pomegranate, acacia), and to well-appointed spots to look back and down over the city of Florence.


Sorry no cookies.

Where is a wall so I can beat my head against it?

Oh those dents? From the day I shopped for baking soda.

I went to 3 grocery stores today, of varying sizes and brand names, to try to find baking soda, baking powder and brown sugar (the packable kind, not the raw kind). To no avail.

I searched in the spices, near the flour, in the sugar and even by the cleaners (hey, doesn't baking soda also deodorize?). Once I even came home with granulated yeast and wheat starch (see photo). Even Cream of Tartar would have gotten me halfway home, but still I am batting zero. (I always get them confused, but baking soda plus cream of tartar is essentially the same as baking powder---unless it is the reverse). Either way, I was out of luck.

So no cookies.

That was the plan, to make my famous lunch box cookies (please bake a batch on my behalf, and snub your nose at me while you eat them---readily---in non Florentine cities). They are a treat we all love: a filling and relatively healthy snack that packs the requisite punch for soccer turnouts, rapidly growing adolescents and resident tourists alike. And yet, at the end of the day, all I was munching was biscotti (really, she is complaining?). Skip the espresso, give me some Vin Santo for dunking (super sweet wine---both espresso and Vin Santo are classic beverages to supplement a plate of biscotti).

My options are: ask mom to shop at Costco and SEND huge bags of brown sugar, baking soda and powder OR plug along and figure out sufficient Italian ingredients. Give me another day of asking my neighbors, then I will decide.

Click here for lunchbox cookie recipe.


yes I bought a purse.

Finally. I mean how long have I been here without caving?

Our residence is smack dab in the middle of Florence's leather district; there are vendors everywhere with purses lined up like colorful candy. How have I resisted?

Well we have been settling in, shopping for apartments and tackling paperwork---so I have been distracted. And leave it to me to price shop: why would I pay top dollar when I have time to research? In passing, I have been weighing one vendor against another, having my children ask for prices and verifying among the truckloads: what purse would be my first?

James is lucky, my favorite kind of shopping usually involves food. Though I love fashion, I have not spent a ton on accessories/clothes/jewelry (much of this is due to our dollars being spent on graduate school, babies, restoring homes---toilet wins over shoes---and now a self-invented sabbatical). But I am in Florence, which feels a bit like a permission slip: I plan to come home with a few purses. There must be some secret code, some girlie girl requirement that when you are in Florence you should not only eat fabulous food, scour hi
storical sites and frequent Tuscan wineries, but one must also purchase some fashion flare. It is what it is!

My purse is... plum colored. And I love it. And Anthony helped me score a seriously good deal! He and I were going for a walk, and browsing the leather stand on the same street as our apartment. I had him ask the price of a few different purses, and translate. We let the vendor know Anthony knew a little Italian, so Anthony translated. The guy threw out a few different prices: 25, 35, 45 and Anthony told me the smaller purse was 25.

I finally caved and decided on my purse (for the record, my little black purse I bought in Maastricht had held out until this same morning, when the strap broke... oh DARN). So I took out the
25 and the guy looked a little confused and said no, I said it was 35. Anthony had made an honest mistake; I cringed on cue (okay there was no cue but I did contort my face and hesitate). He looked at the other vendor, then back at us (oh Anthony, you told me 25! ehem, good job: remind me to thank you later). The vendor said: okay 30. DONE. Woo-hoo!

Happy purse lady am I.


Related Posts with Thumbnails