France – Strasbourg to Metz

SEA French JourneyOne of the best things about having family in other countries, is you can visit places that most tourists would not bother with or even know about at all.

Heading due west towards the German border took us into the Alsace region of north-east France.



Colmar is a pretty town with German influences.Frame 2Or it could be a German town with French influences.Frame 1Strasbourg sits on the Rhine River, overlooking Germany itself.



The city is a combination of cozy streets…Frame 3and imposing cathedrals.DSC08106In fact, it was the world’s tallest building for 227 years from 1647 to 1874!Frame 4The astronomical clock is one of the largest in the world too.Frame 5On the opposite end of the scale, Kaysersberg is a tiny commune that means Emperor’s Mountain.



The ruined castle overlooks the town, but no emperor lives here.DSC08122Who would want to anyway? There are much more pleasant homes down below!Frame 6With little cafes, boutique stores and a restaurant or two, Kaysersberg is a cool little spot hidden within an up-and-coming wine region.Frame 7Looping back north, Metz sits near the tripoint along the junction of France, Germany and Luxembourg.

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The city has a rich 3000 year history, passing through many hands; Celtic, Gaul, Merovingian, Roman, French, German, then back to French again. The Gothic Saint-Stephen Cathedral has the largest expanse of stained-glass windows in the world.Frame 9Colmar-Kaysersberg-Strasbourg-Metz. A pretty cool corner of France, don’t you think?DSC08035Visited 18th to 22nd October 2014.

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France – A Maiden Journey

Of course, there’s more to France than just Paris.SEA French JourneyWe took the train due east to the historical and cultural province of Lorraine (yes, of the quiche variety). Andrew’s aunt lives just out of the main city of Nancy.
Liverdun is a quiet riverside village where the old French countryside lives on, seemingly unchanged.

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Nancy is a city that is proud of its changing times.

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We always love a good cathedral.

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Nancy Cathedral

There are more impressive buildings surrounding the central Place Stanislas.

Frame 2DSC08171A half hour drive west is the cathedral city of Toul. You can’t miss it, ’cause you’ll see it from a mile away!

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Toul Cathedral is an imposing example of Gothic architecture. Although it was built over three hundred years, the impressively detailed facade was constructed in the same style.Frame 5The interior is uniquely bright and airy for a Gothic church.


Toul Cathedral

It seems there are cathedrals in even the very smallest of villages. With wine to match!Frame 6Not a bad way to pass one’s time, don’t you think?Frame 7DSC07900For something less grand, you can visit nearby Grand. Home to a grand old Roman amphitheatre and some well preserved floor mosaics.

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Ancient Roman ruins of Grand

Hidden away deep in the countryside is the village of Domrémy-la-Pucelle (Domrémy of the Maiden). It was originally named just Domrémy.
There was a young maiden, a peasant girl, born here who had received visions from angels and believed that God had chosen her to lead medieval France to victory in its  long-running war with England. She convinced the crown prince to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orléans, where it achieved a momentous victory. But then she was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy and burned at the stake, at the age of 19.

That maiden was Jeanne d’Arc. You might know her as Joan of Arc.DSC07906She was born in this little house.Frame 8Overlooking a nearby valley is the Basilique du Bois Chenu.Frame 11Inside this simple church, her story is shared for all to see.Frame 10Frame 9And never forget.DSC07902Visited 16th & 17th October 2014.

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France – Palace of Versailles

Who couldn’t love Paris, right?
Well it seems the King of France, Louis XIV (known as Louis the Great) didn’t like the capital so much. So he began moving the government in 1678 to his father’s, Louis XIII, hunting lodge about twenty kilometres southwest of the city. Suddenly the small village of Versailles became the political centre of the Kingdom of France.Frame 10The simple hunting lodge was enlarged into a royal palace through several phases of expansion. Wings were added to the original building and renowned architects and designers each added their own flair to create the Château de Versailles (Palace of Versailles).DSC07409The expansions continued right up until 1789, when the royal family were forced to return to Paris because of the French Revolution. That hasn’t stopped some modern additions though.


Palace of Versailles

The interior was elaborately decorated. Each room had its own style and apparent colour theme.Frame 6Chandeliers hung in every room and hallway and room and hallway and room and hallway…Frame 9It was well presented throughout. No ugly display stands or velvet rope with hanging signs. The original furniture was set out in the rooms like they were only lived in yesterday.Frame 4Frame 3There were long art galleries that looked out across long gardens.Frame 8There was even art under your foot and above your head, inside and outside!Frame 11The Hall of Mirrors is a hall of mirrors and…well yeah.

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Hall of Mirrors

Venture outside and you are met with immaculately manicured lawns, perfect trees and sprinkling lakes.Frame 2Step a bit further back and you’ll meet this.DSC07419And then that.DSC07415It was ridiculous. Seriously.
A gorgeous autumn day, and what better way to spend it than to wander these grand gardens? There was so much to see that exploring without the map was the way to go.Frame 1DSC07474While the gardens and lawns are vast, there are equally small nooks and crannies hidden behind tall hedges. Many of the paths converged on circular colonnades and fountains.Frame 5Tired legs can simply lounge by the many lakes. Just don’t venture too close to the water…Frame 7It truly is worthy of a bucket list.
And for us, it was. (That makes 4 bucket lists items in a row! Score!)

63 Versailles

Royal visit to the Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the old Kingdom of France.DSC07783Visited 14th October 2014.


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France – Paris – Lost in Paris

There are many ways to see Paris.

Museum-hopping, church-skipping, cafe-dawdling, wine-sampling, garden strolling…
Paris is a big place. Easy to get lost. Not that that’s a bad thing.Frame 2For a more direct route though, one could follow the Paris Meridian.

It’s a meridian line that cuts Paris in half along the north-south axis, bisecting the Paris Observatory. It was used by French cartographers for more than 200 years. Nowadays, the Greenwich Meridian in the UK is used as the line designating 0 degrees longitude on all world maps and globes.

Unfortunately, the Paris Observatory was closed, so we couldn’t visit the Meridian Room, with the line traced on the floor inside. But a statue of the French mathematician, Urbain Le Verrier, who spent most of his career here, stands vigil. His calculations of discrepancies in Uranus’ orbit lead to the accurately predicted discovery of Neptune.Frame 10For the steely eyed travellers (of which Andrew is, but not Lakshi who got over this really quickly!) there are 135 bronze medallions set into the ground all over the city along the Paris Meridian in honour of 19th century astronomer, François Arago, who solidified this as a global meridian. They are hard to locate and difficult to spot when you get there. They can be found in the road, footpaths, even inside and outside the Louvre!

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Arago medallions along the Paris Meridian

Straying off the straight and narrow, we resorted to museum-hopping.

But a modern open-air museum this time in a trendy part of town. Something different?DSC07240Frame 6Next it was church hopping into Saint Sulpice Church.

If it looks familiar, then it is. The author Dan Brown used this sunlight line defining the exact time of Easter on the Gnomon of Saint Sulpice as his “Rose Line” in his book, and subsequent movie, The Da Vinci Code. And according to his story, this brass strip also marks the Paris Meridian (actually close by outside, so not quite).

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Saint Sulpice Church

Atop the highest point in the city is Sacré Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris). This Roman Catholic church has the best view, back and forth!

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Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris

It’s always a popular, crowded spot to watch the world whizz by.DSC07185Cafe-dawdling now. And pretty spoilt for choice to be honest.DSC07818Or wine-sampling?

It wouldn’t be a French business lunch without a glass of Bordeaux’s finest, onion soup, crusty baguette and a snail or six!
Frame 5And finally garden-strolling. Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden) to be exact.

With it’s own Statue of Liberty and incredible fountains, just for show.frame-7frame-8But don’t leave Paris without doing one last thing. It would be pretty hard to not notice the lovely patisseries dotted about, with a tasty selection of desserts to meet anyone’s fancy. Ladurée is the famous luxury bakery of the infamous French sweet delights.

But the cream of the crop is the famous macaron. And the cream of that crop can be found at Pierre Hermé.Frame 9And that takes a bite out of another Bucket List item!

47 Patisseries

Sample the delights of French Patisseries

What a fantastic city! We were lucky enough to be able to stay in the heart of the city for 10 days to discover as much as we could.

But there’s plenty on offer to seduce you back.DSC07217DSC06749Visited 5th to 15th October 2014.

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France – Paris – Stroll to the Eiffel Tower

Standing out the front of the Louvre is the Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel, a triumphal arch built between 1806 & 1808 to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories. Walk through the arch and Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) is amazingly laid out in front of you.


 Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel into Jardin des Tuileries

Its a beautiful stroll anytime of year. For us, it was bright green with a hint of autumn. After passing Musée de l’Orangerie (again), we reached the busy Place de la Concorde. At its centre is the, somewhat out of place, Luxor Obelisk. This three thousand year old Egyptian granite column arrived here in 1836, a gift from the ruler of Egypt. It originally stood beside its twin at the Luxor Temple. Flanking it here are the famous twin Fountains of River Commerce and Navigation.


The Fountains of River Commerce and Navigation & Luxor Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde

Continuing on the same Axe historique (Historical Axis), stretches the world’s most beautiful avenue; the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.frame-3With its luxury shops, cafes, theatres and tree lined footpaths, it is a visual dream.
Especially with this “other” triumphal arch marking the end of today’s afternoon stroll.dsc07335Twice the size of the lesser known arch waaaaaaay in the distance, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. There are layers of impressive friezes celebrating different victories.


Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile

It stands proudly in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, a bizarre roundabout with seemingly no marked traffic lanes, which has no less than twelve avenues radiating from it like a perfect clock!dsc07373At least one of those avenues got us within view of the “monument” of monuments…
the Eiffel Tower.


Eiffel Tower

Sure, we’ve all seen it before.
Sure, we all know it was designed and built by the famous engineer Gustave Eiffel as the entrance for the 1889 World’s Fair, making it the tallest made-made structure of its day.
Sure, we all know ascending this iron tower makes it the most-visited paid monument in the world.dsc07117But for the best view (in the City of Love or course), all you need is a picnic of local cheese, some nibbles and a pop of champagne.frame-4And that’s another Bucket List item!


Toast champagne at the Eiffel Tower

Oh, and hang around for night-time too.
The tower’s light-show is dazzling.frame-5Visited 9th to 14th October 2014.

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France – Paris – The Louvre

Everyone has heard of The Louvre.
If you haven’t, then go and watch The Da Vinci Code movie, then come back.


The Louvre

Try not to let the modern glass Pyramid that dominates the entrance courtyard distract you from the grand Louvre Palace that surrounds it.dsc06822Not only is it the second largest museum in the world, its one of France’s historic monuments. (Like they didn’t have enough already!).

The Louvre Palace was originally a fortress back in the 12th century and evolved into a palace then finally a museum in 1793.frame-1As expected, the lines were ridiculously long even though we arrived much earlier than opening time. Finally with tickets in hand, we checked at the Inverted Pyramid below the main glass one then headed on in. (Another Da Vinci Code moment here).frame-2Keeping to the theme, we made a bee-line for the most famous painting in the world:
The Mona Lisa.


Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci

While Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece needs no introduction, it was actually much smaller than expected. A large crowd within a large room didn’t help the scale either!dsc06776Somehow we managed to squeeze through the horde of Asian tourists and their selfie-sticks for a selfie of our own (minus said selfie-stick).
And that’s a Bucket List item ticked off!


Meet the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

That’s as close as you can get. Unfortunately behind thick glass, you can’t really get up close to admire the artwork. Although there’s enough posters in the gift shop for that!

It’s too bad that everyone in the room was clearly focused on this one painting. Because directly opposite it was the largest painting in the Louvre and perhaps the most underrated in the whole museum.


The Wedding at Cana, Paolo Veronese

Another “must-see” was the famous marble statue of Aphrodite. But you’d probably know it better as the Venus de Milo.


Aphrodite “Venus de Milo”, Alexandros of Antioch

You cannot possibly see every piece of artwork, for there is an immense number of paintings, archaeological artefacts, sculptures and religious art from all over the ancient world.

So here are our selected favourites:


The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Josephine, Jacques Louis David



Four Seasons, Giuseppe Arcimboldo



(R) The Seated Scribe, from Saqqara, Egypt circa 2600-2350 BC



Assyrian Gate of Sargon II’s Palace, from Khorsabad, Iraq, 8th century BC

It turned into one epic 10 hour day!

As we followed the crowds out into the night-time, we came to a realisation:
At the Louvre, you can see the highlights but you can’t possibly see it all.

But you can try.dsc07015Visited 8th October 2014.


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France – Paris – Notre Dame

There is an island in the middle of Paris formed by the meanderings of the Seine River. As early as the 2nd century it was first inhabited by the Gauls parisii, and the island became the centre of ancient Lutetia.


Seine River

The Romans, led by none other than Julius Caesar, occupied the island in 52 BC. Eventually in the 4th century the great city of Lutetia, or Lutetia Parisiorum, “Lutetia of the Parisii” was renamed Paris.

Today, the island is home to one of the largest and most well-known churches in the world: Notre Dame.


Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris; meaning “Our Lady of Paris”, is a medieval Catholic cathedral of French Gothic architecture. It was constructed over the demolished remains of a previous cathedral from 1163 to 1345.frame-2Over the nearly 200 years of construction, each successive architect changed and evolved the design which can be noticed in the different parts of the cathedral.frame-1It continues to be restored to this day. The openly visible façades are mostly clean, while the sides facing the street and the difficult-to-reach nooks and crannies are still very dirty black. It’s also one of the earliest examples of the flying buttress; an arched arrangement that extends from the upper portion of the walls to transmit the great lateral wall loads to the ground.dsc06691It’s only by stepping inside do you really appreciate the monumental scale of its beauty.dsc06659Impossibly high vaulted ceilings held aloft by huge stone columns; it’s an engineering marvel! Although, she’s showing her age with many stress cracks to be found up high.dsc06669We found the interior quite dark, mostly due to the lack of large stained-glass windows letting in natural sunlight. We didn’t complain too much.frame-4Chandeliers hang down the sides, throwing a photogenic mix of mood lighting that would make Joan of Arc proud.frame-3frame-6Among Notre Dame’s other residents, are some very lifelike (and deadlike) statues.frame-5Beneath it all lies the Archaeological Crypt, with historical ruins of the earliest Gaul settlements and some great history displays to read.


Archaeological Crypt of the Paris Notre Dame

Notre Dame is no ordinary cathedral.

But then again, Paris is no ordinary city.dsc06747Visited 7th October 2014.

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France – Paris – Museums & Churches

A long overnight bus ride due west from Heidelberg, Germany, and we had finally reached the “City of Love”.

No city in the world can compare to the romantic mix of arguably the world’s best wine, food, museums, churches, monuments, scenery…. The list goes on.
Luckily for us, Andrew’s cousin lives in Paris, so we stayed with her in the heart of the city; a small apartment with a boulangerie (bakery) next door and a cave à vins (wine shop) a few doors further down. Yep. Our world was truly French now.dsc06493The most striking feature of Parisian streets are the apartment buildings which line the wide boulevards. Thanks to the 19th century vision of Georges-Eugene Haussmann, under Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), a massive city-wide major works renovation resulted in the homogenous, but architecturally beautiful façades that are synonymous with Paris.frame-8Amongst the sea of apartment buildings, myriad museums and churches can be found, some small, some monumental!
After a rest day, we left the map (and our family tour guide who unfortunately works during the week, like normal citizens do!) at home and went exploring on our own.
We stumbled upon this:



The Pantheon.
It was originally built as a church with a façade modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. Eventually it became a mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. The inscription above the entrance reads:
(“To great men, the grateful homeland”)frame-7
dsc06522The mind boggles at the scale of it all!
Among those buried in the necropolis are Marie Curie, Louise Braille and Napoleon Bonaparte himself.dsc06515The main central dome was under restoration at the time, which obscured the exterior from the outside and the view from the inside looking up (but perhaps not looking down?).frame-6Along the Seine River, Musée de l’Orangerie is an art gallery in the Tuileries Gardens, most famous for being the home for eight Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet. Here’s a tease…


The Water Lilies – The Clouds, Monet

There was a heck of a line to see it though. We even caught the famous actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, jumping the queue ahead of us! No lie!frame-4dsc06464Across the river, Musée d’Orsay is one of the largest art museums in Europe. It displays mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914 and houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters like Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

At the time, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the galleries. So, unfortunately, the following highlights weren’t taken by us. (Although the ban was finally lifted in early 2015 by both museums, so we just missed out on that one!)


(TL) Dance at Le moulin de la Galette, Renoir (TM) The Card Players, Cezanne (TR) Whistler’s Mother, Whistler (BL) Olympia, Manet (BM) Tahitian Women on the Beach, Gauguin (BR) Self-portrait, Van Gogh

The museum itself is housed in a former railway station. An ornate clock looks over the (still) bustling interior.frame-1Times change.
But some things were built to last.frame-2dsc06467Visited 5th to 7th October 2014.


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Bavarian Germany – Video Compilation

Music used without permission: Sia – Clap Your Hands & Chumbawamba – Tubthumping
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Germany – Stuttgart to Heidelberg

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 7: Stuttgart to Heidelberg.

Last stop on our epic Bavarian Journey through southern Germany was the university city of Heidelberg; a city of crumbling age and modern edge.frame-7We had been following the beautiful Neckar River through the last few stops of Stuttgart and Tubingen. Just a few kilometres out of Heidelberg, it flowed into the mighty Rhine River.


Neckar River

The city’s baroque style old town has some romantic cafe-lined streets to while away the hours. As well as crowds of students, Heidelberg is a tourist hotspot.frame-3In the past, the action focused around the central marketplace and Town Hall.


Town Hall

These days though the hustle and bustle is stretched along the mile-long pedestrian street (hauptstrasse), that runs the length of the old town (altstadt).


Hauptstrasse and Marktplatz

Overlooking the marketplace (Marktplatz) is the Church of the Holy Spirit, one of the few buildings to survive the many wars over the centuries.dsc06288Unfortunately, not faring anywhere near as well are the ruins of Heidelberg Castle.


Heidelberg Castle

With its mix of styles from Gothic to Renaissance, it was started in 1398 as a royal residence. Its been destroyed several times and rebuilt. Though the years have taken their toll on the ol’ red brick fortress.frame-4After lightning struck it in 1764, no further attempts were made to rebuild it. The King’s Hall was added to it in 1934, and is used for dinner balls, banquets and classical concerts. With a nice multi-levelled garden surrounding the castle, it makes for a nice scene and sunshine stroll.frame-5Oh, and the views are fantastic.frame-6dsc06359It’s hard not to notice the Old Bridge that leads to the tree-lined hills across the river. The Old Bridge Gate still stands as the gateway to the city.


Old Bridge Gate

On March 1945, German troops left the city from the approaching U.S. Army and destroyed three of the bridge’s arches in their retreat.dsc06392After the war, the university was quickly reopened and the city became a centre of learning once more. Traditionally, Heidelberg’s philosophers and university professors would walk and talk along the hilly riverside, aptly known as the Philosopher’s Walk.frame-9Wonder what they were pondering about?

Then again, with scenic views like this…
Perhaps nothing much at all.dsc06404Visited 2nd to 4th October 2014.

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