When we saw this housesit advertised months ago now, we knew right away it would be a good one for us. The timing was perfect, August is such a busy holiday time in Europe, so a good time for us to be off the road. There wasn’t a lot of pictures in Wendy’s advert, just the two Jack Russell’s, and one of the back garden, but in the notes was that the house was in the country near Versailles, how perfect is that.
I couldn’t get that application off fast enough!
We arrived the afternoon before our house sit starts as usual and Wendy, originally from Ireland and Patrick, a born and bred Parisian showed us around the vast 100yr old farmhouse, and the grounds, about 1 acre in total of hedged gardens, an orchard and the vege patch, full of soon to be ripe tomatoes and pumpkins!
We also met Fanny and Mona, who are just so funny and a breeze to care for.
The name of the village is Autouillet, and it consists of a
church that is closed because it’s undergoing renovations, but the builders are
on vacation, a Marie or the town hall, also closed for the Mayor’s holiday in
August, and about four dozen houses. To
say it’s quiet is an understatement.
We use less than a quarter of this massive house, just our large bedroom upstairs and its bathroom, complete with claw-footed bathtub, it’s typical French kitchen and breakfast area. The house also has two staircases, formal and informal dining rooms, six bedrooms and eight toilets, (that I have found so far). The first couple of days I got lost, and more than once!
The grounds must have been an idyllic place for Wendy and Patrick’s children, hide and seek would have gone on forever, so many places to hide.
Paris is 40 minutes away by train, and Thoiry with its huge 16th-century châteaux and safari zoo, supermarket, pharmacy and a couple of restaurants about a 10-minute walk, you can actually hear, see and smell the animals from the path down the road early in the morning.
We are surrounded by forest as well, so great for walks that we do take the dogs on most afternoons, even though they certainly have a large enough yard to exercise.
So this is where we will spend August, taking a few day trips into Paris and the surrounding area, but mainly just enjoying being here.
Our decision to visit Luxembourg was an impromptu one. We needed fuel before heading back to France, which at present has the highest diesel prices in Europe, it was on our way after following the lovely Moselle Valley through Germany, and most importantly we had not visited here previously, so adding another country to our list.
Ruled by its own monarchy, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small landlocked country tucked away between Germany, Belgium, and France, so has some excellent cultural influences
It’s a natural beauty, the sheer amount of green undulating hills, and the opulent architecture of the hilltop castles and villages are outstanding. Our first night was spent in Echternach a lovely village that just happened to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of its Fire Department, so there were displays, beer tents, and food, perfect entertainment, and dinner!
Luxembourg has it’s own language Lëtzebuergesch, that the children learn in primary school, but most Luxembourgers also speak English, French, and German. Walking through the city though you hear an amalgam of languages widely spoken by the many nationalities that live and work here and travel daily the short distance from Belgium, France, and Germany.
Well known for its banks, it’s also one of the founding members of the European Union, and one of the wealthiest nations on the old continent. Evident by walking their Grand Rue where you see every well-known designer brand you can think of, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Hermès, and Christian Louboutin just to name a few. Then there are the Jewellers!
Luxembourg City is not only for shopping though it’s also famed for its medieval fortifications, the Bock Casements.
For over four centuries, the best military engineers from France, Austria, Spain, and Germany made this city one of the most fortified cities on earth, helping is the fact the city sits high on a rock wall that helps its natural defense.
The vast Bock Casemates, 23kms of underground tunnels encompasses a dungeon, prison and the Archaeological Crypt, considered the city’s birthplace. Along ramparts above, the Chemin de la Corniche, called the most beautiful promenade in Europe, are dramatic viewpoints over the deep gorges cut by the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, and they were also nice and cool on yet another hot summer day.
Their transit system is unique. Free travel on public transit for anyone under 21yrs, and only €2 for all others, and that is soon to be abolished to make public transit free to everyone. We parked in a free Park & Ride area and caught the bus into the city, and by the number of these P & R’s around, it seems most city workers do the same.
We have heard about the huge ferris wheel that has been in Caloundra the past couple of months, but how about this fantastic feat of engineering?
The City Skyliner is a mobile observation tower 72m in height that rotates 360 degrees. It sits on a massive base and weighs 270 tons the City Skyliner can carry up to 60 people at the same time and the trip takes about 8 minutes.
Right next to the Skyliner on Constitution
Square is the Golden Lady that was set up in 1923 to commemorate the
Luxembourgers who died in the First World War. The memorial represents a
gold-plated female figure on a stone obelisk.
In 1940 the Nazis pulled the monument down and it was found hidden in the sports stadium. Restored and put back in its place of pride where today it symbolizes freedom and resistance for the Luxembourg people.
Talking about pride, Luxembourg was the first country to have an openly Gay Prime Minister, elected in 2013, and who married his architect husband in 2015. P.M. Xavier Bettel has spoken about gay rights at various conferences around the world, even in Arab countries. For a very tiny country, only 2500 sq kms, they are very forward-thinking.
Luxembourg is not really on the tourist route, but if you have the chance to visit do so, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Shaped by water and commerce since the Middle Ages, Hamburg
is defined by it’s maritime past and is also Germany’s largest and busiest port. The skyline filled with huge cranes over the
port area attest Hamburg’s claim to be the ‘Gateway to the world’.
Beautiful Gothic style, 100-year-old seven storey red brick warehouses topped with copper turrets and built on oak piles are adjacent to the port. Connected by canals and now UNESCO World Heritage listed as the world’s largest continuous warehouse complex, stretching more than 1.5kms and in use until a few years ago storing tea, coffee spices and to my surprise carpets. Now used as museums, restaurants and very exclusive apartments.
It is Hamburg’s new Elbe Philharmonic Hall sitting atop one
of these 100-year-old seven storey warehouses that to me is the most
outstanding building in Hamburg.
The bottom half looks virtually unchanged from the warehouse
it was until the late 1990’s, but then looking up you see the soaring structure
above of more than 1000 curved glass panels, that remind us of waves.
The 82m long escalator is the first sign that the interior will be just as spectacular as the building’s façade. Said to be the longest escalator in Europe, it’s a long and slightly curved golden tube that makes you feel like you’re travelling through a tunnel of magical bubbles. Acoustically the concert hall is the most advanced currently, and it would be amazing to attend a concert here at some time.
Hamburg’s Altstadt or old centre was all but destroyed during WW ll, with very few of the beautiful Gothic buildings and churches left standing after the cities devastating fire-bombing in July 1943.
The haunting and soaring half ruin Church of St Nicholas, first built in 1195, and taking decades to complete was reduced to rubble in only minutes during one night of Operation Gomorrah, the three days and nights of bombing in 1943, which killed 35,000 citizens, and incinerated much of the centre. The tower once the world’s highest has been left standing, with only a few of the walls left. The crypt is now fittingly an Anti-War Museum, and serves as a memorial for the victims of war and tyranny from 1933 to 1945.
Fortunately, the Rathaus, with it’s gilded façade and soaring coffered ceiling wasn’t seriously damaged, as it would have to be one of the most opulent buildings we have seen in Germany. The main entrance leads you up Sicilian marble steps to an elaborate wrought iron gate, where the roof is supported by more than a dozen sandstone columns. Our 45 minute guided tour sadly didn’t take us to all the 647 rooms, although we did get to see the Emperor’s Hall with it’s unusual embossed leather wall covering, and amazing ceiling fresco, Government meetings rooms, and it’s elaborate 50m long Grand Ballroom, with three massive crystal chandeliers our guide told us weigh more than a car, and beautiful paintings that tell Hamburg’s 1200 year history.
This week the temperature has soared all over Europe. Germany has had 36c – 40c day’s and poor Hermione (and us) have been struggling as well.
With the Elbe River, and all the canals around Hamburg it’s been the perfect place and time to be on the river. Doing a little research on Hamburg I discovered that one particular ferry route takes you along the river, and is included in our day transit ticket, bonus, and about a 10th of the price of a river cruise! Obviously loads of other tourists read about this trip as well as it took us a couple of go’s just to get onto the ferry, but there is nothing better on a hot day than to sit up the front to catch the breeze, while soaking up the river landscape.
One of the other things that Hamburg is famous for is it’s
‘Fischbrotchen’, which is fish on a bread roll (brotchen). It can be pickled herring with onions a local
fav apparently, salmon, a homemade fishcake (my fav) with a rémoulade (spicy
mayo) or a filet of battered fish. We
tried all but the herring. ‘The’ place
to go is Brücke
10 down by the port, a trendy café/restaurant/bar right alongside the river,
the best place to catch what little breeze there was on those hot, humid days.
Apart from it’s proximity to Brücke 10, our excellent free and dock
side parking was reached by an under-river pedestrian/bike tunnel, with a
separate vehicle tunnel that runs alongside, the Alter Elbtunnel or Old Elbe
Built in 1907, 426m in length and built at a depth of 24m and
built to provide the dock workers a direct route to the city, and such an
engineering marvel in those times, well any time really. This experience was probably the coolest,
both in temperature and experience, that I did in Hamburg!
Restoration of the pedestrian tunnel was only recently completed, and
the Art Deco lamps that line the tiled walls, with beautiful terracotta glazed
plaques of fish, crabs and other water life, match those from the original build
Entry is by either three large vehicle elevators, that only operate
during the week, or the two new passenger/bike elevators on either side of the
lovely red brick Art Deco building, that from the exterior you would never
guess what was going on underneath.
Restoration work is now being done on the vehicular tunnel.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Hamburg, take a couple
of days and enjoy this great city, I know we really did.
find the best way to see the sights of a city is to walk it, or in the case of
a city the size of Berlin buy a day transit ticket that gets you onto every
tram, bus, both the U and the S-Bahn trains and ferry, even the local line from
where we are staying in Wilhelmshorst about 18kms or 40 minutes from the city
centre, all for under €8 a day, it’s great value!
is market day around here, whether you are looking for antiques, fresh fruit
and veg or the largest flea market we have ever seen, and that’s our first stop
for the day, Mauerpark.
The flea market at Mauerpark has long attained cult status. All year long you can find anything from designer clothes, old army uniforms, records, jewellery and fine art to old pots and pans. And in between all those stalls are the food vans with every nation’s food available. We bought the most delicious burek and gozleme from a couple of Turkish ladies at their food stall for our lunch.
the time Berlin was divided the site of the park was the border strip of the
Berlin Wall, and the area was off limits from 1961 to 1989.
After reunification the no-man’s land became a public park, that many Berliner’s flock to on the weekend for picnics, or to join in the karaoke in the ‘bear pit’ that attracts hundreds of would be singers.
is a palpable feel between the old east and west especially here in this area
of Berlin city to me. The old east just feels a bit grittier, not
so prosperous and clinical as the west, and although the much-needed work is
being done now on the buildings and roads that deteriorated badly in 45 years
of Communist neglect, it will just take time.
is not much of the old wall left, although in most souvenir shops in Berlin
they will happily sell you a small chuck of rock that apparently is the genuine
wall, I have my doubts. Even more so
since I watched a young woman out the back of one of those shops splashing a
bit of watery paint on some chunks of concrete before gluing them to
cards. Call me cynical, but I would
rather see some of the old wall still standing.
East Side Gallery is just the place to do that. It is a 1.5km long section of
the wall that has been made into the longest outdoor art gallery in the world. Painted
by artists from all over the world as a monument to the freedom of expression
The Berlin-Potsdam area have some beautiful rivers and lakes.
We didn’t get to see them all, but we did manage to take a 30 min ferry ride across one of these beautiful lakes in Berlin to the picturesque village of Kladow on the Wannsee, in the up-market Spandau district south of Berlin.
It was a beautiful afternoon for a little cruise with our ticket included in our tageskart (day transit ticket), and what we saved on the tourist cruise, we could spend in the beer garden, another great thing about using public transit you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.
Our lovely homeowners are home later tonight so that means we are back on the road tomorrow, and heading to Hamburg.