Friday, April 28, 2017

France - Three days in Provence

Alas, not a year, like in the novel of Peter Mayle! But we had a great time, that's for sure. Especially when the weather was more than fine, with degrees over 20° Celsius. This was last year, early in May.

We took a flight to Marseille on Wednesday evening. We arrived late in our hotel because of a delay in take-off (I guess the lady who had to do the boarding doesn't have a watch...) but we slept well enough.

After breakfast the next morning, we could start our discovery of Marseille, which is the capital of the Provence area. We explored the Vieux Port, Le Panier, went to the basilic of Notre Dame de la Garde, ... We also took time for leisure and enjoyed food and drinks in various restaurants.

On our last day we made a day trip to various places in the Provence. We had booked this tour the first day, and to our surprise we were all alone with our guide Fabrizio. A very friendly guy, and quite knowledgable. We drove to Arles, where we visited the remains of the Roman area.

Then we went via Nimes to see the Pont du Gard, the aquaduct built by the Romans as well.

Afeterwards it went to Avignon, the city of the popes. There we had time to have lunch and also see the Palace of the Popes. And of course, we also had to see the famous 'pont d'Avignon'! Well, you can't dance on it, that's for sure!

Later that day we also went to St. Remy de Provence, where Vincent Van Gogh stayed in the asylum and we finished our trip in Baux-de-Provence, a city built on the rocks.

I could recommend this excursion to others!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Italy - Venice

Last year, we started the long summer vacation with a trip to Venice. And it was just one of the best trips ever!

We decided to go to Venice because we had to cancel another trip (airfares had become too expensive), so we used that budget to book the Venice trip. We stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky on Giudecca island. We indulged in a little bit of luxury and took an executive room with view on the canal. And the hotel was worth it's money! Friendly staff, excellent service, a beautiful room... We could sit before the window and just watch all the boats on the canal.

This is something I really liked there. No car, everything by boat. The hotel provided a shuttle (boat) to San Marco and from there you could go anywhere. And the weather! Glorious sunshine after all those gloomy days in Belgium. Less mosquitos than in the south of France or Rome (only got bitten 5 times). Eating outside on terraces, enjoying what's on your plate and having a good glass of wine....

Some people say Venice is very expensive. Well, I don't quite agree. Of course, when you eat or drink something at San Marco square, you may expect high prices - we had a drink at Café Florian and it cost us some - but if you venture into the smaller streets, you'll find cheaper places (and good ones, too). We sometimes had a beer and it only cost 10€ for the two of us. You'd pay that in Belgium as well, especially in Bruges or any other tourist spot.

We also visited the isles of Murano and Burano in the laguna. It was interesting to see how the glass was blown and how figurines were made.

And the little island of Burano is quite picturesque.

Added to this was an unexpected surprise. When we boarded the boat, a guy on his own entered as last person, walked around the whole boat and finally asked if the chair next to mine was taken?  He soon began to make conversation, and remained in our neighborhood for the entire duration of the trip. It was Michael Bolton... We recognized him, and every now and then caught a slip of the tongue. We didn't mention it, of course, just as we pretented not to know Johnny Depp or Eric Clapton on earlier surprise meetings.

I  hope that one day we can return to Venice. It's a place I definitely want to see back.

Monday, April 24, 2017

UK - Manchester and Media City UK

Every now and then we spend a couple of days in Manchester, more precisely in Media City UK. Most of the time it's because we like to watch a show.

The first time we came there was in August 2013.  The weather was not great at the time, but we were lucky it did not rain.

When we booked tickets for Evita which starred Marti Pellow, we were looking for a hotel that was near to the theatre where the musical played. So we picked the Holiday Inn, which is next to the new BBC studio's in Media City UK. Quite a nice environment, and if you are lucky you can spot a tv star or two.

I'm quite sure the guy sitting next to us in the bar one night was actor Iain Glenn, who starred in Jack Taylor, ex-guard and also in Dowton Abbey to mention a couple.

Media City is a new development in Manchester, situated where once the docks of Salford were. Now it's a place where one tv or radio studio pops up next to the other, and there is also a very new theatre, The Lowry, and a shopping mall.

We went and saw the show and of course we also paid a visit to Manchester. We're not big soccer fans, otherwise we'd needed to visit Old Trafford (which, btw, we could see from our hotel window).

Manchester itself is not much of a town. Personally I think Liverpool is a lot nicer and better looking, perhaps because they have the docks near the Mersey.  But the people both in Manchester and Liverpool are very nice and I really like their accent.

We also found some nice local restaurants, only five minutes away from our hotel. I especially liked Lime, where we had a full lobster for a very reasonable price.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sweden - Stockholm and Gotland

Last year in August, we took a trip to Sweden. The weather was not all that good (you're in the north, of course) but we were lucky that it didn't rain too much.

First we visited the capital of Sweden, Stockholm. We stayed at a hotel where we had a wonderful sight from our room window, over all the canals. Stockholm is called 'Venice of the north' and it's true that there are a lot of waterways and small islands.

Next we took a ferry (it leaves at Nynäsham, some 40 minutes' drive from Stockholm) to Gotland. Gotland is a bigger island in the Baltic Sea, at the height of Letland and Estland. We stayed there in the main town (well, town is a bit exaggerated) named Visby. Every 38th week of the year, this town celebrates the Medieval Week. Every inhabitant walks around in medieval dress and all the time there are tournaments and other historical events. This time they also did a reenactment  of the Battle of Visby, where the Danish king Waldemar conquered the city.

Visby is UNESCO World Heritage, because it is a city that is completely encircled by city walls, just like it used to be in the Middle Ages.

The only remark I have about it is that they don't seem to like foreign tourists overall. An example: when you asked for a reservation in a local restaurant, they said it wasn't necessary. But when you arrived in the evening, you got to hear the restaurant was fully booked and there was no space!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Belgium - Ghent

The town of Ghent is the capital city of the province of East-Flanders. It's a medieval city, like most cities in Flanders. It has many interesting attractions, among which an old steep, called Het Gravensteen which used to be the country seat of the Counts of Flanders. During the Middle Ages and the following centuries, Ghent played an important role in the history of our country. As a result of a failed attempt to gain freedom, Emperor Charles V (and also king of Spain) ordered the inhabitants of Ghent to wear a noose around their necks at official functions.

There is also a university, which has a rather good reputation. And then there are the opera and playhouses.

A couple of years ago, I (and of course some fellow teachers) accompanied our 18-year-olds to Ghent. Our main objective was a visit to the KVS-building (KVS stands for Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg).

To have an idea about its importance, you have to go back to the late 19th century, when only French was spoken in every official instance. Some Flemings wanted to promote their own language and so the Flemish playhouse was built, as an opponent to the French-speaking opera house the other side of town.

The company which plays in the KVS is NTGent. This company consists of 10 actors (5 men, 5 women) with a steady contract (which means they get paid the year through) and is lead by Wim Opbrouck, who is now artistic director. Wim Opbrouck himself appears in major tv-series and is one of our best actors.

Now I have visited many theatres already and been on tours inside of them, but this was the first time we we able to see so much of the workings of a theatre. A technical repetition of the play Parsifal was going on, but neither Wim Opbrouck nor the other actors had any objection against our being there and walking over and around the stage.

Our guide, a young woman named Celine Vanhoutte, had a very good knowledge of the theatre and its history, and this morning my students sang her praise. She was also very good in telling little anecdotes, which make everything that more interesting.

First she told a little about the history and the building of the theatre, then we entered the hall and were shown into the inside. We could listen in to the rehearsal, but we also went backstage and then used all the stairs to see the different levels and what is happening there. We could even peep into the artists' foyer and their loges.

It was a very interesting tour and I can certainly recommend it to others!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Argentina - Buenos Aires

Like the name says, good air. At least we arrived to a clear blue sky - which was a relief after the grey days in Belgium.

We left Brussels on Monday 3rd of this month and first flew to Frankfurt (Germany). There we took another flight to BA. We arrived early in the morning, around 7 a.m. It took about two hours to get our suitcase (you're in South America) so half an hour later we got to our hotel - the Anselmo in San Telmo. We immediately got our room (probably helped I mailed them a few days before), freshened up and went out to explore the city. San Telmo is the eldest neighborhood in BA. It used to be the place where the rich lived, but after an epidemy of yellow fever they moved to the north. Now San Telmo is inhabited by artisans and antique dealers.

                                                                  Plaza Dorrego

Buenos Aires in itself is already more than enough to see when you come to Argentina. Of course the whole country is very interesting, but we'll keep the south for another time. The town is as big as the whole our country and has various parts - San Telmo, Recoleta, Puerto Madero, Retiro, ... We took a private walking tour with guide Oliver from Buenos Tours. Oliver showed us the many aspects of the town and it was a very interesting day.

     Family tomb of the Duarte's - among which the famous Evita, wife of Juan Perron

While being in BA, we also had a general strike. We managed to keep away from the protesters,who became rather violent according to what we understood from the news in Spanish.

Another trip took us to the pampa's and the lovely village of San Antonio de Areca, where we were shown around by the friendly Guillermo. We also went to a ranch - an estancia - where we could ride gaucho horses and have a barbecue (asado). Another great day!

And next we discoverd the delta of the Rio Plata. North of BA you'll find Tigre, from where you can take a boat to sail the many canals of the wide delta. I've never been in New Orleans, but I imagine this is more or less like the bayou's there. Everything happens on the water - school, shops, farming, hospital, firefighters.

Lastly, you can never be in Argentina and not dance the tango. So we took a tango lesson (very basic, but you get the idea) and afterwards went to some milonga's (dance parties). Normally there should have been a milonga at our square (Plaza Dorrego) but it was raining rather hard that Sunday night.

Needless to say, we had a great trip!