Sensational Baby Boomers

Saturday, 31 August 2019

A BIRTHDAY VISIT TO COLOGNE



When my daughter told me she was taking me to Germany for my 66th birthday (just gone), I thought it would be a bit of a blast from the past, since I lived in Germany for three years way back in the 1960s. My father served in the Royal Air Force and we lived at Rheindahlen, which was then the NATO headquarters, but I haven't been back since we left there in 1966.

We arrived on my actual birthday and there was a huge surprise waiting when we got to our room.  There had been a mix-up over my daughter's payment to the budget  Ibis Centrum Hotel, which was to be our home for three days, and to compensate, they had upgraded our room and left balloons and bunting (even though they got my age wrong, but as it made me younger, I didn't fuss about it!


Cologne cathedral 


Our first afternoon was spent getting our bearings and wandering around the city centre - which was around a 15 minute walk away from the hotel.  The first thing that struck me was that I didn't remember any of the city - despite the fact that we had spent many days and hours there and had visited lots of times. 

Obviously there has been a huge amount of building during the past 53 years - probably most of it during the 1960s as it was obvious from the design of the architecture. Clearly Cologne had been devastated during World War II - as had many English cities, and most of the rebuilding had been completed at a time when square building were the norm.

However, the beautiful and iconic gothic cathedral was one of the few buildings left standing, and stands proud and majestic in the city centre, although it is currently undergoing extensive renovation.  Finally completed in 1880, the cathedral took some 600 years to complete and was one of the most important religious sites in Europe, since it was to house the remains of the Three Kings.





The cathedral is free to enter, though there is a small charge to go up the tower - which we didn't do since I am very scared of heights and the 100m height and 533 steps was just too much for me! Interestingly I don't believe the blackened stone-work has ever been cleaned, leaving it very dark on the outside - testament to the history and the architectural significance of the building.  It is absolutely the heart of the city.

My birthday dinner was spent at my daughter's favourite restaurant - the Hard Rock Cafe - and we have to eat there wherever we travel if there is a branch!  The staff were very kind though, and brought free ice cream for us to share!



The Fragrance Museum


We had booked a visit to the Fragrance Museum, which was certainly one of the highlights for me.  At just 5 Euros, we went to the House of Farina for a tour and history of Eau de Cologne, which was quite fascinating.

Originally from Italy, the Farina family set up their business selling Eau de Cologne in the city to combat the appalling smell which we humans emit when we never wash!  Since the local water was filthy and smelly it was not used for washing, and consequently the population was also filthy and smelly and something was needed to enable people to live without a permanent bad smell!

Although the name of Eau de Cologne is French, the product came from Germany, the name endured  because all trade and nobility spoke French, which was the language of business and the upper classes.

Using essential oils, the Farina family developed a fragrance - actually stronger than today's eau de cologne - which was used by the aristocracy and rich population only, since it would cost the equivalent of 1000 Euros for a bottle at today's prices.  Bonaparte had a special compartment built into his shoes to place the glass container and reputedly went through a bottle a week.

Fainting was normal for people at events since the smell of the body odour, coupled with the strong smell of the fragrance meant many passed out when in close proximity! 

We were also treated to some little titbits of how life was like back in the 1700s - people put drops of blood and honey on cloth and hid it among their clothes - the blood to draw the fleas and lice, and the honey so that the little beasties would stick to it!

We were delighted at the end of the tour to be given a sample of that first fragrance - not as sophisticated as today's perfumes, but still quite pleasant. More modern bottles derived from that first cologne can be purchased in their on-site shop.

Incidentally 4711 was a competitor to the Farina family, which bought a licence to produce a similar product, and although the family tried to rescind the licences at a later date, and eventually succeeded in many cases, 4711 continues to this day.


Red Bus Tour


We always book a red bus tour during our city breaks, and we jumped on a bus just as the heavens opened, so that was a good choice.  However, I did find the rest of the city quite uninspiring.  Clearly many of the historic buildings no longer exist and it just seemed like any city with lots of office blocks, entertainment and sports venues and museums.  On the opposite bank to the city is Deutz - originally a separate town, but now part of the major conurbation.  It is here that you can "hop off" if you want to visit the city zoo or shop in one of the larger malls. There was also a zip wire and climbing course for the more adventurous but probably more suitable for those with older children.

We decided then to take the train to nearby Dusseldorf - another place I had often visited during my early teenage years, but again, I didn't recognise anywhere - though there is a fabulous shopping centre!  We strolled along the Rhine Promenade, but again, the view on the opposite river bank was largely flat and uninspiring. The train journey however, was exceptionally smooth, with double-decker carriages, largely on time and clean.

Dusseldorf





The Haymarket


Dinner was spent at the  X11 Apostles Restaurant in the Heymarket District which was exceptionally good.  We had searched for a gluten free restaurant as my daughter is intolerant to gluten, but sadly there is a distinct lack of GF choices on restaurant menus.  

This area housed the medieval market where merchants came to trade their cloth, leather, salt, cheese and of course hay, and forms part of the old town with its traditional buildings and local breweries.The area is very lively at night with food and drink stalls, jewellery and leather, and a live band creating a festival atmosphere.



 River Boat Cruise


For our final afternoon, we opted for a river boat trip, but I was hugely disappointed since it seemed like a kindergarten with beer!  Small children ran around while the adults drank and waitresses carrying trays of beer and chips swerved around screaming children  Since we were inside we couldn't hear any of the commentary and the upstairs outdoor area was completely full.  We had asked the guy when we got our tickets if the boat was full or if we should book another time, but he said the trips were always full, and there was only one more cruise that day.  Somehow I think they are missing a trick.  I would have loved an evening cruise with dinner when all the buildings were lit up through the city!


Incidentally the Willi Ostermann referred to on the boat  above is a famous German carnival singer and composer.

A stroll along the river bank is a must - walk around the back of the cathedral and between the museums and it is pleasant to sit and watch the world go by on a sunny day. You can also see the impressive Hohenzollern Railway Bridge spanning the Rhine, and which was largely destroyed during the war It now carries around 1200 trains each day in and out of the main railway station, although there is also a pedestrian walkway running alongside if you want to walk to the other side of the Rhine.  There are also plenty of riverside cafes and bars and some pretty old buildings in pastel shades which are extremely instagrammable!




There is certainly plenty to do - especially if you like museums - there is something to interest everyone, including for sport, art and chocolate! As one of the largest city and oldest cities in Germany, it is certainly worth a visit, but I think if I was to visit again, I would love to go in December to visit the Christmas markets! The shopping is excellent, though many of the names are to be found all over Europe, including the UK, though it was interesting to see C&A thriving here - a store which disappeared from our high street a few years ago!




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Friday, 19 July 2019

AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE HOLIDAY IN FRANCE


The House in Apremont


When your good friends ask you if you'd like to pop over to France with them to stay a week in their holiday home - there's only one answer.  YES of course!!(And thank you!)

My friends bought their lovely holiday bungalow some years ago so I have visited two or three times previously, but they have completely renovated it since then, and it is absolutely gorgeous - and I'm not biased, I just love clean comfortable accommodation - ok, verging on luxury if I'm honest!

In fact the house is so popular, that they rarely get the opportunity to relax and enjoy what they have created, since it is rented out most of the summer months. The house is in the pretty village of Apremont in the Vendee region in the west of France.

Maison Blanc nestles between fairytale chateaux, ancient walled towns, traditional coastal resorts  and natural wonders. But best of all, it's a real home from home, with every modern convenience, from Sky TV and Alexa to a modern fitted and fully functioning kitchen. There is also a washing machine in the utility room, which means you don't have to fill your suitcase with more clothes than you need. Towels and bedding are provided.




From the UK it is possible to either fly or drive, and we have done both in the past.  This year we flew from Leeds/Bradford airport (local to us here in Yorkshire) to Limoges, but we have previously taken the ferry or flown from East Midlands airport.

For me the beauty of Apremont is the tranquil countryside and the peace and quiet, which may not be for you if you want to party.  It is the perfect spot for family holidays, with a double bedroom, two twin rooms, a shower room with loo and a separate toilet.  There are games and books in the cupboard, bikes in the garage, and the piece de resistance is the swimming pool in the garden, with plenty of sunbeds, so no need to get up at the crack of dawn to fight over your sun lounger. The home is tastefully decorated and furnished, and the lovely conservatory at the back of the house is light and airy. There are also a number of  nearby activities and places of interest to satisfy everyone in the family - leaflets are available at the house. 

Closest to the house is a small beach and river, which in summer has swimming and boating available to keep everyone happy, and the best thing is, it's just a 10 minute walk away.

Elsewhere, local amenities and nearby towns are only accessible by driving, so hiring a car is a necessity as public transport is nil.




After a busy and stressful year, I was ready for a little rest and recuperation, so reading a couple of books, relaxing by the pool and pottering around the shops was such a treat.  We ate out on the patio when the weather allowed us and there was one magical moment in the late evening when we turned out all the lights as we were locking up.  The night sky was a deep indigo and there were more stars than I've ever seen.  It was such a clear night - and no street lights - so we could see millions of stars - not all of them very bright, but it conjured up such a perfect feeling of peace and tranquility.



The village has only a handful of shops - a patisserie, a Spar grocery shop, a pretty jewellery shop (yes I bought some earrings!) and a couple of restaurants.  Highlight of the day was the stroll to the patisserie for fresh crusty French bread, buttery croissants and pain au chocolat.  I was lucky not to come back heavier than when I started, because the bread is so delicious, we ate it every day, usually sitting at the outside patio table in the early morning sunshine.



Days Out


One of the nearest towns is Challans, and we spent a couple of hours in the morning browsing the shops.  It is useful to note that although it wasn't high summer during our visit, the shops operate siesta times and close around lunchtime, re-opening in the late afternoon.  But there were still people drinking coffee and beer all day at pavement cafes - all very French!


St Gilles Crux de Vie is the nearest seaside resort to Apremont, with its charming small inlet harbour,  Unfortunately we mis-judged the timing and only had a short time there before the shops closed, but we enjoyed a coffee in one of the many cafes and strolled along the harbour after the tide came in.  There is also a fabulous old fairground carousel at the end of the pedestrianised street - very picturesque! It is also possible to get a ferry boat to the small island of Ile D'Yeu, though it is a place we have never been - maybe that's something for another visit.



St Gilles was originally two separate towns, St Gille de Vie and Croix de Vie, separated by the River Vie, and grew up around boat building, where today there are now five factories of leading boat builders. Anglers are able to hire boats for the day to take them out into the Atlantic for a spot of sea fishing if that takes your fancy.

Another day we ventured to the seaside resort of Les Sable de L'Onnes, which has the most amazingly long golden sandy beaches - a dream during the summer months, and ideal for young families.  It is also the largest local port, bringing in fresh fish to the restaurants.  There are plenty of water sports to choose from, though it was a little too early in the season to see much activity, other than wander round the boat yard and admire the small boats and yachts.

Les Sable is also home to the Golden Globe Yacht Race, last held in 2018, with a countdown to the next race in 2022.



I always love to visit La Rochelle with its traditional old harbour, and contrasting modern marina. There's also a fabulous 14th Century Lantern Tower and 15th Century fortress to explore, as well as an aquarium for the kids, a number of museums and a lovely beach. Of course we managed to find a few very nice shops along the way, pausing for lunch at one of the many harbour-side restaurants.


However much as I love La Rochelle it was a bit of a trek for our driver (otherwise known as my friend's hubby) and a six hour round trip drive, so it's probably worth spending a separate few days there. Being a port, of course, the seafood is delicious, and no visit to France would be complete without a meal of Moules et  Frites (mussels in a delicious cream sauce with fries for those who don't parle Francais).

There are boat trips around the coastline from La Rochelle, including one to Fort Boyard, which has had a chequered history and was latterly briefly used as a military prison. Am I the only one who remembers the strange  TV game show filmed there with Leslie Grantham (of Dirty Den East Enders fame) and Melinda Messenger?

Our last night in France as we made our way back to the airport was an absolute gem - and another place which we discovered was so interesting, it would be good to have spent more than a night there.  We had booked a small gite in Saint-Priest-sous-Aixe just outside Limoges so we were near to the airport for our morning flight.  What a perfect spot!  We didn't really know what to expect but the little hamlet was a touch of paradise.




Our little house was a converted barn, part of a complex dating back 1,000 years, and largely owned by one family.  The owner had an English father who served in France during WW11, married a French girl and stayed there. The little house had everything we needed for the night, including wifi, and a fully stocked, if rustic kitchen.  The rickety stairs led to two bedrooms - a double and twin, with a loo upstairs and a toilet and shower downstairs.

We enjoyed a relaxing glass of wine in sun loungers watching the kayakers navigate the small weir as they made their way downstream, which we followed up with a relaxing stroll along the riverbank, passing some very rusty tractors which haven't seen any work this century!  I think it was yet another one of those absolutely perfect moments where you totally let go and relax.



We ventured into the nearby town of Limoges, which was so pretty, with its porcelain shops and medieval buildings.  The Rue de La Boucherie is not to be missed, with its quaint doorways and beautifully restored architecture. The original butchers shops now house such diverse businesses as an historic library, antiques and a seamstress - not a butcher in sight! As always in France, there are museums and churches to visit, but our time there was fleeting, so definitely worth another visit.


The perfect end to a lovely week!

Booking information for Maison Blanc in Apremont available here or here or here (take your pick). With grateful thanks and much love, as always, to Paul and Gillian Hargreaves for a fabulous break.
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Sunday, 2 June 2019

A SHORT STAY ON THE RIVIERA

Anne H here, recently returned  from a lovely short break in the South of France, which is somewhere that I have never been to before, and was on the top of my bucket list.  A friend and I went for four nights staying at a lovely little apartment, booked through Booking.com called Colonna which, apart from being on the top floor with four punishing floors to climb, had every amenity and creature comfort. 

NICE 

We were based in the old town which is really pretty and full of fabulous bars, cafes and restaurants, many with impromptu musical performances in the evening.  It is really accessible for the promenade and the new town and all its amenities and travel links and has loads of sights to see within its narrow, pedestrian friendly streets. 


On arriving on the Monday afternoon we grabbed a quick snack in a local cafe before tackling the climb to Colline du Chateau to see the sun dropping over the red-tiled rooftops and blue Med.


The views were stunning and well worth the walk through beautiful gardens to the site on the top of the hill with wonderful waterfall and stunning vistas of the city on all sides.





From here we walked down the other side of the hill to the port, spying a Russian oligarchs super yacht - the first of many.   Then back to base for a quick brush up and wash before heading out to dinner at Restaurant Acchiardo which was a gem of a find and somewhere we frequented again during our stay.



The next morning we set off for a visit to the Cours Saleya Markets in the market square in the old town one street in from the the Mediterranean.  This particular day was the flower market - and what amazing blooms they displayed too! We grabbed a quick breakfast of coffee and croissant at one of the cafes lining the market before heading off to the Tourist Information office to find out about buses and trains that link Nice to other tourist spots along the coast with our sights firmly set on Cap Ferrat for lunch.



On our third day the weather took a turn for the worse and was very grey with rain forecast, so we started the morning on a bus with a trip to the Musee Matisse which was only a 15 min bus trip, and well worth the journey as there were gardens to walk and enjoy as well as the incredible artworks in the Musee.


 CAP FERRAT 



The easy bus ride to Cap Ferrat on our second day was perfectly timed for lunch by the harbour at a small Italian/French restaurant called Nonna where we enjoyed a relaxed lunch while watching the world go by.


We then took the walk around the peninsula following the path that hugs the coastline, taking in the stunning views and admiring the fabulous villas overlooking the sparkling sea.




ANTIBES 


On the afternoon of the third day we braved the train service to go to Antibes and wander the streets which were pleasantly quiet.  Sadly the Picasso museum was about to close so we were unable to go there but maybe that is for another time. We enjoyed a drink by the market and enjoyed a lovely dinner at a restaurant recommended by the waitress at the bar (who had originally hailed from Canada).




There was another super yacht to admire in the harbour as well - also Russian and purported to be one of the largest private yachts in the world.


EZE 

On the Thursday we took ourselves off by bus to visit Eze a village perched on the hill top with stunning panoramic views out to sea.  The oldest building dates back to the 1306 along with a tangle of gorgeous medieval streets house art galleries, cafes and shops.






Walking up through the village we arrived at the Jardin Botanique which is renowned for its succulents and not least the magnificent views. Quite a test for me as I have no head for heights, but I finally made it to the top with a little encouragement.  Given the beautiful weather the village was very busy and full of tourists, so finding quiet corners was a challenge.




 MONTE CARLO 

From Eze we shared a taxi down to the coast and picked up the train to take us to Monte Carlo and observe the high rolling lifestyle of this principality.


Of course you have to start at the Casino with a drink and snack at the Cafe de Paris which was not as ridiculously expensive as I thought it would be.  The city was preparing for the Grand Prix so some parts of the harbour area were off bounds.


So we made our way to the old town to see the Palace and take in the pretty streets that lead to it.



We both felt it had a strange almost Disneyesque feel - almost too pristine to be real.  But worth a visit and wander round.


Not least for views of yet more impressive yachts.














All in all we had an action packed four days but so enjoyable and blessed with some sunshine to. I can definitely recommend a visit to the Riviera - Monte Carlo didn't really appeal that much, but everywhere else we went was lovely, though we never ventured to Cannes, so think this is one to re-visit.


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