me in Luxembourg
Continental Tripping 2014 Journal
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Jolly Holiday time and The Husband and I are off on a road trip to The Continent, for reasons of comfort and security we take the Jag.

  Leaving Scotland 11/10/14
The tripping begins with a drive down to Plymouth for the overnight ferry to Roscoff in France. 
  Brittany Ferries Plymouth
  The MV Armorique isn't the best boat we've ever experienced.  The catering options for dinner were, frankly, atrocious.  A very basic self-service restaurant where we went for the breaded fillet of cod with tartare sauce, thinking, keep it simple, can't go too badly wrong with fish and chips.  How wrong could we be, a shaped piece of fish was lukewarm and soggy, obviously not long out the freezer, with a small ramekin of what was meant to be tartare sauce but tasted more like butter.  Our cabin was one of the eight Outside 4 Berth Club Plus, which is the top class of cabin the boat has to offer.  Before disembarking, of course, I bagged the (only soft) drinks from the mini bar, the apples from the fruit basket (ie a small balsa wood receptacle with 2 apples, a peach and a handful of grapes) and (this is the best bit) a complimentary box of macaroons, for which, I am truly thankful.
  Dol-de-Bretagne and Mont Saint-Michel 12/10/14
 Off the boat and on the drive to Mont Sant-Michel we stop off for a small refresher at Brasserie Des Halles in Dol de Bretagne and found there is a place that is a stranger to Pepsi and Coke.  As I sipped on my Breizh Cola, I reflected on good as the top two brands.
 The first time you set eyes on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mont Saint-Michel is a moment you'll never forget (all being well health wise), it's a fairy-tale Disney castle of a place.  It would be truly amazing if it weren't for two things...the tourist and the trap elements.  This rocky island commune in Normandy sits approximately half a mile off the northwest coast of France and is currently reached by both the old causeway for the (free) buses, horse-drawn Maringote and the walkers, and the new bridge...for almost nobody that I spotted using it.
  Mont Saint-Michel

We check into our hotel, once we finally locate it.  The sat-nav, or as we call it...Eddie Izzard (for it is Mr Edward Scottish-IndyRef-none-of-his-business-BetterTogether-campaigner Izzard who voices our instructions in-car, though we're about to change that and it's his own fault for sticking his English nose into our Scottish future). 


The Le Relais du Roy is a very pleasant hotel sited within the barrier-protected community and right next to the dam in the mouth of the River Couesnon.  This new dam is going to help stop the silting up of the bay and return the island to true island status.  It's an impressive dam with equally impressive tidal stuff going on.

  Le Relais du Roy  
  On our arrival we're at low tide, we take a bus along to the island for a quick-ish check out of what we'll be going to see for real the next day.  The island is full of tourists (Japanese and French), and local French restaurant and shop workers.  None of them immerge as good guys.  They don't know how to queue properly and they don't know how to serve.  At the bus stop they barge past showing no respect for others who've been waiting for ages before them, in the cafe the French peoples are down-right rude, we request help from French police people at one point, they behave like we come from a different planet, never mind another country.  From up high on the rock there's views of the silt flats, and what we initially suspected were cockle-pickers turned out to be trudgers.  Trudgers looking woefully miserable, we wouldn't be taking the trudging tour out there on the silt-flats, that was for sure.  At this point I'm going to shoehorn in their French flag, because I do love a flag.  
  We have a quick shifty about the rock, with it's single narrow winding medieval street, it's tourist tat shops and it's restaurants, many of which have menus with pictures on, always a bad sign.  
  the tourist trap streets  
  We opt for a sandwich at the La Mère Poulard Terrasse, the coffee shop/café covered terrace.  La Mère Poulard is a hotel and high-end restaurant too, and I've got no idea how one is treated in those areas of the establishment, but unfortunately I know exactly how one is disregarded in the café. 
  The tables and chairs are unsubstantial and too close together, I had a girl's hair in my face at one point, her chair was so close to me. Prior to that we'd had to move a few times when we realised bird shit was dropping from the rafters, especially round the wall areas.  We should've left instead of moving.  A surly youngster took our order, misunderstood us, somehow they imagined we wanted both our choices on one plate.  Surly teenager brought the drinks then dropped the plate on the table, blank faced, not looking at us, no eye-contact, no smile.  A swift swivel on her feet and she was gone.  I was having none of it and approached the woman behind the counter for another plate.  Woman behind the counter was dismissive, twists her mouth, "zees is what you asked for", rudest French person I was ever in the same country as.  Unhappy at her work, spreading displeasure and zilch customer service.  The room was busy, only madam behind the counter and tweeny on the floor, a man with a clipboard and pen trying to look managerial was of no use whatsoever, perhaps if they were better staffed the staff would be better staff.  Perhaps, but unlikely.  And the food was nothing special. 
  La Mere Poulard Terrasse  
  We try to take a horse-drawn Maringote, we like a horse-drawn, but this one refuses to drop us at our hotel, insisting they would drive past the hotel and drop us at their horse-drawn Maringote station then we'd have to walk back to the hotel.  If you're willing to pay cash money in largish amounts, you expect to be treated special, the way you want it.  The horse-drawn person, she says "non".  
  We push past people who are queuing for the free bus, you either join in with the deplorably poor bus-stop etiquette or you'll be walking the 2miles of causeway back.  We hop off the bus at The Place du Barrage and go up the steps for a closer look at the dam and an iconic view of Mont Saint-Michel across the river mouth.  The dam is a good looking and ingenious structure, it works by regulating the water levels to give the river enough strength to push sediment out to sea and away from the Mont.  I particularly like the little touches, engravings of a star-catcher at the midpoint and the little shells.  
  the dam  
  star catcher engraving  
  shell engraving  
  view from the dam of Mont Saint-Michel at low tide  
  We take a stroll around the area surrounding our hotel, there's hotels, restaurants and shops mostly selling biscuits, calvados and cider.  The area inside the barriers at the mainland end of the causeway has a cow and sheep thing going on.  My favourite is the World Cow.  
  World Cow  
We have dinner booked at our hotel, Le Relais du Roy, on the first evening.  My dinner tonight is spectacularly gorgeous, taste wise, and to look at.  I can't remember for a minute what the dishes were all called...the menu was in French after all...but I can tell you, these three dishes were delicious and so beautiful.  Starter was something apple and camembert tarte, main was sea bass and prawn, sweet was a delightful pear and caramel thing, that's the best I can conjure up from memory.  Was all very tasty and aesthetically pleasing.
  main course  


The Dam, Mont Saint-Michel and Alligators 13/10/14

  Next day we start with a look at the Couesnon River which is much faster and high-tide than on the previous late afternoon when we last looked.  At high tide the full force of the dam's silt-moving powers are to be witnessed in the raging waters behind the dam.  I don't pretend to understand the workings of this piece of engineering genius but I believe it's doing a wonderful job.  
  high tide  
  the Virgin, her baby and a French flag  
  We take our second trip up to the Abbey on the island rock of Mont Saint-Michel.  France loves it's Catholicism, Mary is everywhere, Jesus (or Jeeez-us as I came to refer to him on the many occasions I spotted him) is around a lot too.  Didn't see God so much.  The main thing about Mont Saint-Michel, the reason it's a thing, is the abbey at the top.  We climb up the steps and visit the Abbey first.  It's very large, very old and very important in the history of Europe and Catholicism.  I like it, if it weren't for the other over-one-million visitors a year it would be an enchanting delightful place.   
  Highlights are the chancel, the cloisters, a Black Madonna holding a little Black Jeeez-us while balancing on a a rather nice starry ball, a headless Jeeez-us, a scary archangel Michael sticking his thumb through the skull of the bishop of Avranchesa (how many times do I have to tell you to build an Abbey on Mont Saint-Michel, twice already, do I have to stick my thumb through your skull before you listen?), the refectory pillar design walls, gargoyles, a tread wheel and a model ship hanging from a ceiling.  I think the ship is called L'Avranchin, haven't been able to find out why exactly it's there, might be something to do with a historic ship wreck off Mont Saint-Michel.  
  the chancel  
  Black Madonna and little baby Jeeez-us  
  headless Jeeez-us  
  faceless angel  
  refectory wall  
  tread wheel  
  After the Abbey tour we take a stroll down through the maze of Mont Saint-Michel alleys and find some more Jeeez-us.  He's everywhere.  The small graveyard on the rock is especially full of crucifix grave markers.  It can't be only me that finds this a particularly poor-taste image, but here's a load of them anyway. 
  a Jeeez-us  
  another Jesus  
  another Jesus  
  Jesus on Jesus  
  From the tiny cemetry we found the Église St-Pierre, the Parish Church of St Peter's, upping the blingy-anti, so I strongly suspect, when they say "church" they really mean, what we here in Scotland understand to be a "chapel".  They have a one-armed baby Jeeez-us...novel. Outside the front door there's an impressive Joan of Arc, made a pleasant change from the god-family effigies, though maybe she is a distant cousin.  
  one-armed baby Jeeez-us  
  By this time, I guarantee, you'll have had enough of the island too.  We had a think about what else to do on our second and last afternoon here.  The answer is obvious, we wouldn't go all the way to France and not see an tortoises ayant you say...sizzlingly hot rapports sexuels.  Vive la France!  Tortoises/turtles are the most rampantly sexual creatures I've ever witnessed in a caged situation, who'd have thought it.  

We take a walk round the near-by Alligator Bay.  Loads of turtles, tortoises, snakes, lizards, crocodiles and alligators, that sort of creatures of the reptile world thing.  The hot-house alligator building holds Europe's largest collection of alligators and it's breath-taking to be standing so close to so many huge walking death-traps.  We were there with very few other visitors and the park was a surprisingly good experience, with very lively animals, as you'll see below.

  tortoise sex  
  giant tortoise sex  
  reptile sex  
  giant tortoises  
  The Husband  
  Dinner tonight is at Restaurant La Rôtisserie.  When in Normandy, so I start and end with Calvados.  My first is an aperitif.  Then a starter of Seafood Gratine with Camembert cheese, the main is Pan & Grilled Cod Fillet served with Creamed Leak and Chicory Fondue Rice & Bacon, and sweet is a very French Apple Tart with Ice Cream & Calvados in a tiny little glass jar.  
  La Rotisserie  
  Château Les Martinanches 14/10/14   
The Husband booked a rather special room for our next two nights.  We drive through France to Les Martinanches, actual address...63520 Saint-Dier-d'Auvergne, in the Puy-de-Dôome department of the Auvergne region of the Massif Central in south-central France.  This is a beautiful 11th century French castle sitting on an island surrounded by a moat, with dungeons and it's own chapel.  The castle sits in the stunning French countryside of the Livradois–Foreznational park.  It's all rather beautiful and special.  We're the only guests and our chambre is La Contesse de Segur on the first floor of the Dungeon Tower with a French coffered ceiling and a double spa bath.  The first two photographs are from the Martinanches website because I had no way of being in the position to take either of them.
  from above
  Les Martinanches
  front door
  round the back
  The Husband
 We take a wander around the castle then, on the recommendation of our hotelier, we take a drive to the nearby village of Mezel for dinner at Le Petit Gargantua on Rue du Château.  This is a spectacularly delicious and inventive menu in a small village restaurant in another Château.  Table service is delivered by Jacqueline, the wife of the chef Thierry Bernard.  Madame Jacqueline speaks French, protesting with a non-speaky-de-English, but I detect a slight northern English accent.  We need some assistance with the French-only menu, she shortly admits to her England heritage, but I get the feeling she'd rather not, and who can blame her.  With the lovely Jacqueline's helpful menu-translation we make our choices and the meal begins.
 A platter of aperitifs to share is delivered first, dainty pastry and cheese-based tasters.  This is followed with an amuse bouche of Puy Lentils...we're very close to the home of the Puy Lentil.  We both go for the Pounti Cantalou en Corolle de Salade et Pluches de Jambon starter.  This is absolutely delicious, and I think it's a Pounti with salad and pinches of ham.  A Pounti is a cake made with a dough of wheat black flour, herbs, prunes and Swiss chard and a "pinch" of ham seems to be a fine slither.  
 Our main is a filo pastry parcel with a sauce, very tasty, very filling...and neither of us can recall now what was in it.  I think it was mainly chicken and mushrooms.  For sweet, I opted for the best with the Quatre Tentations de Gargantua, four little samples of the best of the sweets.  The Husband could only look on enviously singing...J'en ai un le regret.
  amuse bouche
 Feeling happily non-hungry we head back to the castle.  The only guests...the owners live on the other side of the moat.  We park up and in darkness we approach our Dungeon Tower doorway entrance and see a dim light coming from deep within the dungeons.  It's in equal parts scary and intriguing.  We take tentative steps in through the now mysteriously unlocked open metal dungeon gate.  It's mostly scary by this time.  There's large hooks strong enough to hang a human being on the ceilings, I don't like any place with large hooks strong enough to hang a human body on the ceilings.  Then Monsieur arrives across the courtyard carrying a lantern and smiling contentedly.  On his way home he locks the gates, the option of running away in the middle of the night is out.
  the dungeons
 And so, up the spiral stairs to our room and I fall asleep watching closely the outline of the secret passageway door on the wall next to me, convinced every now and then that the shadow is widening and the door is slowly opening.  I wake up in the morning after a sound comfortable sleep, so there wasn't a bogeyman and I wasn't tortured and/or dead and/or barely alive on a hook in the dungeon, phew!  And here's a pic of The Husband on the toilet.
  the bed
  La Contesse bedroom
  The Husband on the toilet
  Château Les Martinanches Chapel, Chaise-Dieu and Le Puy-en-Velay 15/10/14 
 We have breakfast in The Dining Room of the 23 Chairs, counting chairs and noshing into this delicious Praline Brioche.  Before heading out we stop to admire the Château Chapel.
  The Husband at breakfast
  praline brioche for breakfast
  inside the chapel
  We go out to explore the area, stopping first at the town of Chaise-Dieu to visit their gothic abbey-church, construction of this present day abbey began in 1344.  This little corner of France is adorable and the abbey has loads of delightful surprises.
  Chase-Dieu town center  
  well in town center  
  Chaise-Dieu Abbey  
  front doors  
  It's an interesting place.  I was particularly taken with the Danse Macabre and the beautifully carved stalls where I spotted a Catholic dragon.  Joan of Arc's here's too, looking lovely, amongst the Christs there's a sad Buddy Christ from Dogma and a crucified Christ, and also, another of them pop-up candle shops we find in most of these religious type buildings.  There's also the tomb of Clement VI (pope from 7 May 1342 till 6 December 1352), who began his vocation as a monk at the abbey of La Chaise-Dieu, in the choir of the abbey-church.  Unfortunately the famous tapestries weren't on show, away to the laundry I think.  
  carved stalls  
   dragon under a seat  
  Clement VI tomb  
   Joan of Arc  
  sad Buddy Christ  
  crucified Christ  
  pop-up candle shop  
  See below for the 15th Century fresco painting Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) and the drawing to help you decipher what's going on, from the left...  
  From Chaise-Dieu we drive to Le Puy-en-Velay located in the bowl of a volcanic cone.  This is where my favourite lentils come from and from the brim of the cone the town's an impressive site.  There's a choice of 3 main attractions, we take the Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe chapel challenge.  This chapel is built on top a 85 metres (279 ft) high needle of lava, a very steep one.  Built in 962 to celebrate Saint James getting home from a pilgrimage the chapel is reached by 268 steps carved into the rock.  It looked intimidating from a distance, but it's really not all that bad.  The chapel is pretty, the views amazing, worth the climb. 
  Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe chapel  
  inside the chapel  
  Back to the castle then out for dinner at the local village of...something.  I can't figure out or remember the name of the restaurant or the village.  Dinner was alright, I do recall the young waitress who was a noisy mouth-breather, so it's probably best I don't remember.  Oh, wait a minute...L'étape Gourmande in Cunlhat, that's the one. 
  It is out of season so understandable that the menu is limited in a small village restaurant on a school night.  We started with an aperitif of the local lentils, I love the lentils, and a little samosa, which I wasn't expecting.  For the rest...look at the photos.  
  Issoire 16/10/14  
  Next day we're off to Issoire and a visit to the church of Saint-Austremoine.  An elaborately decorated church inside (top marks for the starry ceiling) and out, and a lovely little crypt.  I was pleased to note the zodiac signs on the outside stonework, two types of mumbo-jumbo in one building, nice one.  When we arrived back at the castle there was a tray of Champagne waiting in our room for us, another...nice one.  
  loads of Jesus  
  golden box in the crypt  
  Alps, Fréjus Tunnel and the French Riveria 16/10/14  
  Next morning after breakfast we're on the road again and off to Italy.  We travel through the Alps...through a load of tunnels, a huge load of tunnels and some magnificent chunks of rock.  The longest of the tunnels is The Fréjus Road Tunnel which connects France and Italy and is, at 13 km (8.1 mi), the 9th longest road tunnel in the world. It runs under Col du Fréjus in the Cottian Alps between Modane in France and Bardonecchia in Italy and currently costs 42.40 Euros for the use of.  On the other side we're in Italy, and immediately everything is molto Italiano, possibly the second best country in the world.  Through a load more tunnels, seriously, I lost count at approximately 100, then we're heading down the west coast, the Italian Riviera.   
  When it's time to find a hotel for the night we're in the small but astoundingly beautiful fishing village of Camogli.  This place is so attractive, so beautiful, so Italian, so enticing, I begin to think I want to live here.  Then I realise the geography...the houses, the streets, this village is built on such vertiginous hillside and cliff that I'd be constantly mind-tricked into believing I was falling from a great height, I'd have a hellish life of constant stomach-churning nausea, afraid to ever leave my highly-stacked and vivaciously-painted house.  With a firm retirement plan of staying in Scotland, we book into a Classic Sea View Room, room 85, at the molto luxe Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi.  I take my iPhone's first ever panorama pic from the hotel terrace.  
  panorama from the terrace  
  The doorman valet guy disappears with the car keys and our luggage beats us to our room...that's hotel magic.  After checking out our double French door balcony we relax on the terrace with drinks and snacks, looking out at the Camogli Gulf sea and along the black beach.  This is the life.  
  We have dinner in one of the hotel's two restaurants, Il Doge.  A fabulous eating space with three walls of windows looking out to sea.  I started with a Champagne and Strawberry Risotto, followed by a local Prawn dish be honest I can't recall what this sweet is.  Probably the most expensive meal of the entire Jolly Holidays, it was the actual best of the entire Jolly Holidays, nice enough, but we had better.  
  Il Doge  
  Pisa 17/10/14  
  Next day, the car is delivered to the front door and the luggage...sans all the complimentary hotel room back in the boot.  Then we're on the road to Pisa.  Exciting.  This is where I had in mind when we set off.  I wanted to make it as far as Pisa, and was permitting The Husband to come up with all the stops before and after.  (Though I also influenced the Luxembourg decision).  
  We book in to The Hotel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face, plenty of room at the Hotel California, any time of year, you can find it here.  The best thing about the Park Hotel California at Pisa is it's name, there is a certain silly pleasure knowing you're checked in at the Hotel California.  Other than the name, it's serviceable if you're spending your day out and only coming back to sleep.  The restaurant and breakfast are poor, more on that after a day out in the heart of Pisa.  
  Park Hotel California  
  We head of course for Piazza dei Miracoli, the Square of Miracles.  We visit the Duomo, the Baptistry and climb the tower.   
  Under the dome of the Baptistry we're treated to a song by one of the tour guides, a note sung here lasts, some suggest for over 12 seconds, and echoes reverberating around the space as the singer introduces another note on top and soon several notes are harmonising.  It's a beautiful aural effect.  
  In the Bell Tower I count the steps on the way down, got to 200 and something, then as I stepped out the door back on the ground I was so dizzy I forgot the figure.  I Googled, it's 296 or 294 steps because the seventh floor has two fewer steps on the north-facing staircase.  I don't know which staircase I was on.   
  Square of Miracles  
  Duomo and tower  
  inside the Duomo  
  inside the Duomo an angel candlestick  
  an alter  
  insdie the Baptistry  
  inside the Baptristry  
  guide sings  
  alter detail  
  the Tower  
  inside the tower  
  Everywhere people with their hands up (including me) for photos.   There's a fabulous Fallen Angel sculpture by German-born Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj (March 26, 1944 – October 6, 2014) on the lawn.  This is part of The Angels exhibition currently in residence to mark 950 years since the laying of the Duomo foundation stone.   
  We stop by the Putti Fountain (Fountain With Angels) at Cafe Pasticceria for lunch where I adore the delicious Raviolo Salvia Noci e Pecorino (Ravioli with sage, walnuts and sheeps' milk cheese) and the fantastic views on Miracle Square.  On the way back to the car we find a couple of men not performing a miracle with a lot of metal rods up their sleeves.  
  pushing the tower over  
  Fallen Angel  
  Putti Fountain  
  Raviolo Salvia Noci e Pecorino  
  not a miracle  
  Back at Hotel California we have a rather uninspired dinner in the restaurant there.  The wine and bread were nice, I love any wine that comes in a jug in Italy.  For a very limited menu there's a lot of olives and only ice cream for sweet.  
  wine and bread  
  Florence 18/10/14  
  Next morning and breakfast at Hotel California is in a different dining room with caked salt in the cellars and some food items that we are reliably informed (by a couple of Swizz guests) had been there for several days.  You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.  Hell with that, we check out and leave, heading to Florence and a far superior hotel.  
The far superior hotel is the Italiana Hotels Florence and it's got my first round bed. 
  round bed  
  Day out in beautiful Florence.  This is a must-visit place and there's a lot to squeeze in.  We take a taxi to the city center and start with drinks and a small pastry for The Husband at a table at the B. Gallo cafe on Piazza San Giovanni, with a magnificent view of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower), otherwise and easier to know as the Cathedral, and the Bell Tower and the Baptistery.  Soaking it up, this is the life.  We've picked up a city guide book and know what we've got to see, starting with the Duomo, outside, inside and down in the crypt museum.  
  front doors  
  Cathedral main doors  
  Cathedral front  
  Cathedral front top  
  side doors  
  Duomo dome ceiling  
  candles and dome ceiling  
  Cathedral candle holder  
  inside the Duomo  
  inside the Duomo  
  Dante and the Devine Comedy by Domenico di Michelino  
  Duomo crypt  
  alter in the crypt  
  Diva Reperata relic thing  
  Brunelleschis' tomb  
  cross in the Duomo crypt  
  After exploring the Duomo we take a stroll along Via dei Servi passing the Madonna col Bambino mural with an insane looking baby Jeeezuz on Via Maurizio Bufalini and reaching an open-air market in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata Florence where I noted Giambologna's last statue, an equestrian statue of Ferdinando I de' Medici (the Grand Duke) which was completed by his student Pietro Tacca.  Also, Tacca's bronze fountain figures of grotesque mythical creatures in the Mannerists style.  
  Madonna col Bambino  
  Pietro Tacca bronze fountain  
  We're heading in the direction of the Galleria dell'Accademia to see David.  This is an absolute must-do when in Florence.  The world famous masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504 by Michelangelo is here, where we are, I simply refuse to go home till mine eyes have lain upon the 4.34-metre (14.2 ft) nude.  Is it just me, or are his hands too big?  
  There's other art to see at the Galleria including paintings and more Michelangelo including the unfinished Slaves.  The Pieta of Palestrina was once attributed to Michelangelo, but no-one knows who the sculpture was to be sure.  The painting Ideal Head by Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, which isn't all that great as a head actually, would be more aptly called Impressive Pair of Breasts.  There's a lot of gold-backed alter pieces including Bernardo Daddi’s Crucifix.  In one large room, the Gipsoteca Bartolini, it's like a statue shop with shelves and shelves, every little space, filled with plaster casts.   
  David's bum  
  Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio’s Ideal Head  
  Pieta of Palestrina by Michelangelo?  
  Bernardo Daddi's Crucifix  
  in the Gipsoteca Bartolini  
  Gipsoteca Bartolini room   
  Gipsoteca Bartolini  
  While we're waiting to get enter the Galleria dell'Accademia there's a pretty young busker girl playing a fiddle, when we leave and we're walking down Via Ricasoli back towards Piazza del Duomo there she is again, walking in the middle of the road, carrying her violin case on her head.  She sang opera style intermittently as she passed by rows of scooters, and in that moment I knew, nothing could sum up the Italian gioia di vivere better than her.  
  Via Ricasoli   
  Back at Piazza del Duomo we catch a horse and carriage around the historic city.  A half hour trip around all the main sites, along side streets and a temporary (until January 2015) bonus...a fantasy public art installation.  Personal / Unpersonal by Italian architect and designer Simone D’Auria is in the form of 18 human-figure-animal-headed creatures climbing, swinging and sitting at the Gallery Hotel Art on Vicolo dell’Oro, a small road near Ponte Vecchio.  I'm reliably informed (by the Google) that the animal heads are inspired by the prominent men who played a part in building Florence and that as was the fashion of the time, they had animals as their personal emblems.  So that was interesting.  
  horse carriage ride  
  Personal / Unpersonal  
  The horse drops us back at Piazza del Duomo and we set off on foot to visit the nearby Piazza Della Signoria, one of the most beautiful squares in the whole of Italy thanks in the main to the Loggia dei Lanzi and the multitude of statues.  It was here on 7th February 1497 that Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola and his followers, the Piagnoni (Weepers,) carried out the famous Bonfire of the Vanities (one of their many bonfires), burning a large pile of books, poetry, art, gaming tables, cosmetics and fine dresses.  In front of the fountain of Neptune, a round marble plaque marks the exact spot where Savonarola was hanged and burned on May 23rd 1498.  This is a great piece of information to be aware of.  
  Girolamo Savonarola memorial plaque  
  The Palazzo Vecchio (old palace) with it's clock tower is now the Florence city town hall.  Also, this is where Hannibal Lecter ties-up, disembowels and hangs Chief Inspector Pazzi from a window.  In the square there's the Fontana Del Biancone (Fountain of Neptune) by Bartolomeo Ammannati with it's amazing horses, and the Cosimo I equestrian statue by Giambologna.  A replica David stands where the original used to stand before it was moved to Galleria dell'Accademia in 1873 for protection.  The real David was unveiled on this spot on 8th September 1504, this replica was placed here in 1910.  
  Other statues of note in the square are the Marzocco, the heraldic lion that is a symbol of Florence, best known in the rendition sculpted by Donatello in 1418–2 which is in the Bargello in Florence, this one is a replica.  The bronze replica of Judith and Holofernes created by Donatello in 1460 looks like a bit of good old biblical beheading, Judith is slaying the tyrant Holofernes, so that's a good thing.  The original is inside the Palazzo Vecchio.  Then there's Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli.  
  Palazzo Vecchio  
Palazzo Vecchio entrance frontispiece
  Fontana Del Biancone  
  horses on the Fontana Del Biancone  
  Cosimo I statue  
  replica David  
  Judith and Holofernes  
  Hercules and Cacus  
  Loggia dei Lanzi and Cosimo I statue  
Moving on now to the statues of the open gallery Loggia dei Lanzi.  The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna is here, the version in Galleria dell'Accademia is a full-scale gesso.  Then there's more rape...The Rape of Polyxena by Pio Fedi.  The Google says that back in the day rape didn't mean rape as we understand it, but rather these statues are the "abduction of".  I accept this explanation, on the understanding that pretty soon after the "abduction of" there would've been the actual sexual intercourse "rape of", if there wasn't then there'd hardly be any reason for the "abduction of".  Even given that this is all Roman (Sabine women) and Greek (Trojan Princess Polyxena) mythology I feel the need for acknowledgment that the women were taken against their will for the sex.  And can I just say, Achilles was a dick.
  The Medici lions are really interesting.  "Fancelli's ancient lion" was reported by Flaminio Vacca to be 2nd century Roman and to have been found in the Via Prenestina, outside Porta San Lorenzo.  According to Vacca, the lion had been a relief, which was carved free of its background and reworked by either Giovanni Sciarano or Giovanni di Scherano Fancelli.  The second, also in marble was made and signed by Vaccain the 16th-century to pair with the Roman one.  Like Wally Dugs on your Granny's mantelpiece, only a lot bigger, and more special, and more expensive, and better looking, they sat atop the garden staircase at the Villa Medici in Rome before being moved to Loggia dei Lanzi by 1598.  
  The beautiful bronze Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545) by Benvenuto Cellini is here too.  Giambologna's marble sculpture Hercules Beating the Centaur Nessus is here.  Also Menelaus Supporting the Body of Patroclus, by no-one really knows, it's been a long restoration project of a broken old Roman statue.  And there's six (though I've only shown 3 here) very old Roman statues of Roman women known as The Sabines, they're all marble, from the 2nd century AD, are probably originally from Forum of Trajan and were previously located at the Medici Villa in Rome.  
  The Rape of the Sabine Women  
  Rape of Polyxena  
  the ancient lion  
  Vacca's lion  
  Perseus with the Head of Medusa  
  Hercules beating the Centaur Nessus  
  Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus  
  Roman statue  
  Princess Thusnelda  
  Roman Matron   
  pigeons on lions  
  After a stroll around all these statues and a mammoth amount of photography trying to avoid the peoples in my pictures.  People are all over the Loggia dei Lanzi, sitting all around the statues and on anything that resembles a seat ie stone steps.  I'm sure they'd be sitting on the statues if the statues hadn't been placed on high plinths, thanks-be for high plinths.  By now it's lunch-time, and for us it's pizza at Ristorante Il Cavallino on Piazza della Signoria.  Here's The Husband looking handsome at Ristorante Il Cavallino, and a picture of the very pizza we ate.  
  The Husband at Ristorante Il Cavallino   
  We head to the river after lunch, along Piazzale Degli Uffizi with it's many statues of statues of great Florentines set into the niches on the walls, the stalls and the street artists.  Under this arch we reached the and through the elevated enclosed passageway which is the  Vasari Corridor.  It's Vasari Corridor along the north bank of the River Arno and onto the bridge across the River Arno, the Ponte Vecchio.  A part of the Vasari Corridor can be seen in the photo below, view from the Ponte Vecchio.  And it can be seen on the bridge in the view from the north bank.  The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge of jewelry shops, both sides of the bridge being lined with them.  
  Piazzale Degli Uffizi   
   view from the Ponte Vecchio  
   view of Ponte Vecchio from north bank  
  Ponte Vecchio jewelry shops   
  Benvenuto Cellini bust on Ponte Vecchio    
  And then...there was a magic pig.  We retrace our steps onto the north bank and take a stroll back towards Piazza del Duomo.  Along the way we find ourselves in Loggia del Mercato Nuovo with it's market and the magic pig.  Il Porcellino is a boar statue that if you rub his snout you'll be guaranteed to return to Florence and/or receive great riches.  I didn't rub, I know a bit of superstition flim-flam when I hear it, instead I'm thinking of Chief Inspector Pazzi washing his bloody hands in the fountain (Hannibal again).  
   Il Porcellino  
  We've already decided the Campanile di Giotto is optional, it can be seen perfectly clearly from the outside, we opt not to climb it inside.   
  Campanile di Giotto  
  Instead we visit the Baptistery which has impressive doors for a start, then an impressive mosaic ceiling, then an impressive...more doors, really impressive doors.  And Dante was baptised here.  There's three sets of doors, the most elaborate being the east doors, depicting Old Testament scenes and known as the Gates of Paradise.  Inside the first thing to amaze is the goldly decorated ceiling...of the dome roof and the apse arch.  In normal circumstances there is only work by Donatella in the Baptistery, the tomb of Antipope John XXIII (made in collaboration with Michelozzo), but during our visit there's three prophet statues by Donatello temporarily on show here.  These statues were made to decorate Giotto’s Bell Tower but after being damaged by pollution they were replaced by copies and taken down and restored.  The statues are, from left to right, il Profeta imberbe (the Beardless Prophet), il Profeta barbuto o pensieroso (the Bearded, or Pensive Prophet) and il Profeta Geremia (Prophet Jeremiah).   
   There are two Roman sarcophagi with the St. John the Baptist by Giuseppe Piamontini statue in the middle.  Other points of interest are the mosaic floor, the font and a big heavily decorated candle in a massive candlestick holder.  
  Gates of Paradise  
  Baptistery ceiling  
  Baptistry Apse Arch  
  anti-pope Giovanni XXIII tomb  
  Donatello statues  
  St John the Baptist Giuseppe and Roman sarcophagi  
  main alter  
  We stroll around Piazza del Duomo where a tiny rooftop balcony garden area takes my notice, imagine living there, looking out on Florence Cathedral every evening.  We stop off at L'Opera Caffè for a caffe americana, a bibita lattina and a graits pastry.  Then there is the taxi situation.  We eventually manage to get into one, which we have to make our way to the bus station to queue for, despite the L'Opera Caffè waitress phoning for one for us.  The driver hears where we want to go, then never says another us.  He says thousands of other words, non-stop chat and gesticulations all the way to the hotel, seemingly speaking into two different phone or radio set-ups.  I begin to think he's hosting a radio phone-in chat show.  
  rooftop balcony on Piazza del Duomo  
  To Switzerland 19/10/14  
  That's it, we're done with Florence, I know there's a thousand other things to see, we'll have to come back.  Next morning it's arrivederci Florence and we're on the road again heading to Switzerland.  Through tunnels and Alps, the scenery is beautiful.  When we stop for a Swiss cheese sandwich lunch at Hotel Restaurant Postillon in Buochs on the side of Lake Lucerne, despite my Anosmia, even I can sense the cool and crisp, the healthy, in my nostrils.  Families cycle past, cowbells merrily dunk-donk away..blissful.  Bet the cattle get pissed off with the bells.  I take my iPhones second ever panorama pic. 
  Lake Lucerne  
  Further up the country (we're really just passing through on our way to Luxembourg) we stop off for the night at a hotel with the loveliest hotel carpet ever, Hotel Baslertor in the small town of Muttenz near Basel.  Night-time by now we take a stroll then eat a little supper al fresco at Pizzeria Pisco, an Italian restaurant.  We spot a painter cow then it's up the spotty stairs to bed.   
  painter cow   
   dotty carpet  
  Luxembourg 20/10/14   
  This morning breakfast is at the Coop food shop/cafe next door, interesting arrangement.  Then we're on the road again, to Luxembourg.  Our hotel is outside the city itself, the Hotel des Vignes in Remich in the Moselle area.  Indeed, the pretty little hotel and restaurant situated next to the River Moselle is surrounded in vineyards, very picturesque.  
  Hotel des Vignes  
  vineyards around Hotel des Vignes  
  view from Hotel des Vignes  
After checking in we head into Luxembourg city for a scout about with what's left of the daylight.  We start at the Monument du Souveni (Monument of Remembrance) on Place de la Constitution.  She's usually known as the Gëlle Fra (Golden Lady), and represents Victory placing a crown of laurels on the people of Luxembourg.  The monument was originally to commemorate the thousands of Luxembourgers that volunteered for service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during the First World War (see the two soldiers in bronze at the bottom of the obelisk plinth) and later to also honour Luxembourger forces from the World War II and the Korean War.  In the gardens here, the Luxembourg and European Union flags overlook the Vallée de la Pétrusse.  Normally this would be a great place for a good view of the Adolphe Bridge, but it's undercover at this time.  We cross Boulevard Franklin D. Roosevelt for a visit to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. 
  Monument du Souvenir Luxembourg  
  bronze figures   
  flag in Luxembourg  
  Adolphe Bridge  
  Notre-Dame Cathedral  
  cathedral side doors  
  main alter  
  small alter  
  From there it's along Notre-Dame Street and we find ourselves in Clairefontaine Square with the bronze statue of Grand Duchess Charlotte.  Then along Fosse to Place Guillaume II and the bronze King William II statue and the Hôtel de Ville de Luxembourg (Town Hall) with it's lions, the national symbol of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.   
  A little further along and we walk along Rue du marché-aux-Herbes past the Grand Ducal Palace which is the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg where he performs most of his duties as head of state of the Grand Duch, and next door, the Chamber of Deputies where the government does it's business.  Handy.  From there we join Grand-Rue to see the Hämmelsmarsch Well, a bronze fountain built in 1982 which is located on the site where in years gone by the “Roude Pëtz” (red well), a 62-metre deep fortress well and a pump house. The 2.80-metre high well sculpture by Luxembourgish sculptor Wil Lofy represents the “Hämmelsmarsch”, a folklore procession which used to take place on Funfair Sunday.  The accordion player on the bronze is a self-portrait of the sculptor, and it's got sheep, I like to see a sheep in art.  From there we find ourselves in Place du Theatre and see Les Saltimbanques.  This is a rather appealing jolly statue of a troupe of carnival dancers by Bénédicte Weis.  
  Clairefontaine Square  
   King William II statue in William Square  
  Hotel de Ville de Luxembourg  
  Grand Ducal Palace and Chamber of Deputies  
  guarding the Grand Ducal Palace  
  Hammelsmarsch Wil Lofy  
  Les Saltimbanques  
  Les Saltimbanques by Benedicte Weis  
  We head back to the hotel for dinner at their Restaurant du Pressoir.  The food is ramped back up to French quality of taste and design, which is delightful after the less pretty two-trick pony (pizza and pasta) that Italian cuisine tends to be.  A really lovely meal.  
  Luxembourg 21/10/14   
  Next morning we're back in Luxembourg for a full day visit.  We start with Saint Michael's Church with it's two dragon slayer statues, one outside and one inside.  I love it when religion which is itself a big dose of incredulous also sells dragons as an actual thing that existed.   
  From there we head towards the Bock Casemates and take in the views from Chemin de la Corniche.  There's Église Saint Jean du Grund and the Neümunster Abbey to our right and the Casemates directly in front of us.  The high-cliffed rocky prominence of the Casemates is extraordinary historically important for obvious reasons, surrounded on three sides by the river Alzette, it's naturally easy to defend. 
  The two-story bridge connecting the Bock to the old town, the Pont du château (1735), provides four...yes...FOUR...ways of crossing between the cliffs: the road over the top, a passage by way of the four upper arches, a spiral staircase up through the main arch and a tunnel under the road at the bottom.  Luxembourg is a city of bridges and the view to the left of the Bock shows the Passerelle Viaduct with it's rail traffic in the distance and the small bridge on the old Wenceslas Wall.  We'll be down there later. 
  I'm worried about these Casemates, this is a trip down under, under loads of solid stone.  Claustrophobia kicks in.  The main tunnels are big enough, with windows for fresh air, and a false sense of security.  I was okay until we descended a particularly deep spiral staircase then along a tighter and tighter passage, and down more stairs.  Deeper, deeper, closer, closer, tighter, tighter, less oxygen, heightening fear factor.  Thankfully we emerged back in open air, I caught my breath, but still behind a barred metal gate.  There's an emergency button to press here, I take it when pressed help will arrive and unlock the gate, releasing me from the torture of retracing my steps through the hell that is awaiting me.  I didn't want to cause a fuss and to be that person, I had to go back the way I got there.  Pretty uncomfortable, but I made it.   
statue outside St Michaels Chapel
  dragon slaying Catholic style  
  Neumunster Abbey  
  looking down on the Grund  
  the Bock  
  Pont du château  
  entrance to the Casemates  
  inside the Casemates  
  Lucky to get out of there alive, we traipse be honest I'm not really sure in which order today's sightseeing occurs.  This may be due to the fact that at some point we're in the Hotel Place D'Armes, in the Place D'Armes also known as Luxembourg’s ‘sitting-room’ and The Husband tells me it's not too early to drink wine.  Admittedly, I didn't need telling twice.  So I'll just throw this one in, at some point we were on Rue du Nord and enjoyed the view of Porte des Trois Tours.  The rest of this holiday blog is going to be a lot easier to put together now I've fessed-up, might even get it finished.  
  wine, coffee and a croissant  
  Porte des Trois Tours  
  Église Saint Jean du Grund at the end of Rue Munster has a notably decorative front entrance with this nun.  Inside there's a cleaning lady who's pretty determined to stay on the main stage stopping me from getting photos of the main alter, her and her bloody Pledge.  They also have an impressive organ dating from 1710 and a black Madonna which was sculpted in 1360.  Point of note : a spanky Jeeezuz.  
   a nun on St Michael's Chapel  
  St Jean du Grund furniture spray  
   Black Madonna  
  spanking Jeeezuz  
  We leave and walk around the back of the chapel on the path which leads to the Neumünster Abbey courtyard There's this stone memorial to something or other, not the best quality carving I've ever seen.  Now we're below, looking up at the Bock Casemates.  Luxembourg city is a bit of an M.C. Escher illustration, with the upper and lower levels and many bridges at varying heights.  The small medieval stone arch “Pont du Stierchen” footbridge  next to the Abbaye de Neumunster in the Grund area of Luxembourg City was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994 and it's got a ghost. pont du Stierchen et le mur de Wenceslas  Arch on Large St.   
  stone in the Abbey yeard  
  old cobbled street arch  
  ducks on the River Alzette in the Grund  
  River Alzette  
  the mur de Wenceslas  
  pont du Stierchen  
  the Casemates from below  
The lower level, The Grund, can be reached down cobbled streets and stairs, or by a lift to the Grund from Fëschmaart Square.  On the top level the lift is next to the Parquet Justice Superior Court of Justice (Cour supérieure de justice) and these lovely metallic vases, the bottom photo shows the lift at the lower level.
  Cour superieure de justice  
  metallic vases  
  lift in the Grund  
  On Rue de la Loge the façade of Monkey's Bar bears the words "Mir wölle bleiwe wat mir sin" which is the national moto of Luxembourg.  It means..."we want to remain what we are" and originates from the Luxembourgish people's wish to remain independent and seperate from their neighbours, Belgium, France and Germany, which have traditionally dominated Luxembourg politically and militarily.  Monkey's is a gay bar, clever use of the national moto.  
  national moto  
  Musée National d'histoire et d'art is a great museum and art gallery, so much of it, we start on the bottom floor and move up the building, in the glass lift.  This is totally the right thing to do because the floors are in chronological order.  I quickly get the impression photographs are not an option but I'm not entirely sure, I had to use the iPhone camera just in case.  There's a lot of the MNDA, ten levels in all with the bottom five actually dug into the rock.  By the time we reach higher floors we're too tired to give it our all.  I think this place deserves multiple visits to fully appreciate.  The main highlight for me is the 61.3m2 mosaic floor from the reception hall of a Roman villa in Vichten which depicts the ancient Greek muses.  Astounding quality, when it was first made, around 240 A.D., and still right up to this day.  I also like the model village shown below, if only I could've knocked up this quality for a school project, either for myself as a child or for The Boy when it was his turn.  My other favourite is the pair of sheers from a long long time ago, remarkably similar to the sheers The Dad uses to cut the wool off the Ivydene Shetland Sheep today, sheers have changed little over time.  
  There's so much Musée National d'histoire et d'art the only way The Husband can get me to stop and sit down is to suggest...more wine, I have a glass in the Museum cafe.  
Roman mosaic floor
  beardy man  
  old tent  
  model village  
  very old sheers  
  red rooms  
  wine in the Musée national d'histoire et d'art  
  Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge or Red Bridge is a road bridge over the River Alzette Opened in October 1966 and more than 100 people have jumped since then.  In 1993 the Luxembourgian government decided to erect a Plexiglas safety barrier to prevent more suicides it was having a terrible effect on the people who lived below the bridge. had been living in constant fear of 250-foot-high bridge was built over the gorge.  In 1991 "They fall on our roofs. They fall in our gardens. . . . They land in the middle of the street in broad daylight," said Clement Engelmann, secretary of the local residents' association.  no one survived. They have been peppered with beer bottles, stones and all sorts of debris. However, the suicides are the worst problem. From that height bodies go straight through the house roof and end up in the attic, Engelmann said.  
  Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge  
  Plateau de Kirchberg  Rue du Fort Thüngen Luxembourg Cour de Justice Tower I and II [the Cour de Justice twin Towers] one in front of the other at 103m each tallest and second tallest in Luxembourg on the left and the Centre de Conferences (77m) 3rd tallest on the right with Tour La Porte I and II (68m each) # 6 & 7 in between.  
  Fort Thungen and the Plateau de Kirchberg skyscrapers  
  This is a thing, a sheep in a greenhouse, obviously an eco thing.  I can't find any information as to why this next thing is a thing, but it is a thing, knitted bollard covers.  Or maybe it was the wine.  
  green sheep  
  knitted bollard covers  
  It's been a busy and full day, nothing more to do but to leave Luxembourg city behind and head back to the hotel and then go out for Germany.  The Moselle river forms a border between the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Germany.  And similarly, our hotel in Remich is separated from Restaurant Moselbruck in Nenning by the Moselle.  A very short drive over the river, the impression is that we're still in the same town, however, we're in Nenning.  The staff speak German and the menus are in German, The Husband's German is not as good as his Dutch and Norwegian.  I ask the waitress if she or anyone else speaks English, she responds "no".  I'm afraid I'll order something I won't eat.  I decide I need an interpreter, just as I get up taking a menu with me and head further into the restaurant seeking fellow diners a man walks in from the cold and dark.  I turn to him, "do you speak English?" I ask.  "Yes" he says, "my name is Graeme".  Excellent Graeme, what's this all about and I hand him the menu.  I'm so pleased I did too, the first starter is snails.  With his help I have a delicious dinner, especially enjoying the hunners of truffle on the feine Linguine mit frisch gehobeltem französischen Trüffel (fine linguine with freshly grated French truffle).  
  Holland 22/10/14   
  Next morning we're on the road to Holland to visit The Step-Daughter.  We stop off in Volendam for a walk around the town then lunch at Bar de Molem on the harbour looking on to the IJsselmeer with a bronze fish woman statue outside.  I have the Broodje Kip en Petat.  After spending some time with The Step-Daughter we check in to the Van der Valk Hotel Wieringermeer for the second time in my life.  
  fisher woman bronze   
  Volendam harbour   
chicken and chips
  Van der Valk Hotel Wieringermeer lounge  
  Homeward bound 23/10/14   
  We go for another visit to The Step-daughter in Wervershoof then, on the way to the boat we take a wander round a local shopping centre where there's a cheese shop, a whole shop all for cheese, we purchase one for The Dad.  This gives me the idea of snapping a few typical Dutch things for a really obvious Guess What Country?  We stock up on the special Mayo we only get in Holland and on the way out from the shops a chip shop girl gives me a free sample cone, which was exceptionally good fortune for my pic-quiz and handy that we have Mayo at the ready.  There's a windmill nearby (there's always a windmill nearby) and I've got myself a clogs fridge magnet already.  Quiz finished, erm, it's...has to it...The Netherlands?  Yay!  I win. 
  The Husband and The Step-Daughter  
  cheese for The Dad  
  chips and mayo  
  Wervershoof windmill  
  fridge magnet  
  We board the DFDS MS King Seaways, IJmuiden to Newcastle upon Tyne, one more sleep till home-time.  Dinner on the boat is on the poor side, a limited menu, so slow service and The Husband receives an under-cooked fish that puts a downer on the entire experience.  On a better side, we discover that the man at the next table is someone The Husband worked with decades ago and both still work for the same company, much catching-up and reminiscing ahoy.  
  DFDS MS King Seaways  
  The Husband and a friend  
  Scotland 24/10/14  
  Next morning, off the boat, up the road, over the border and ta-da...we're home, good to see you Caledonia.  this has been a truly fabulous holiday, in my head I was aiming for Pisa and Luxembourg was also my idea, The Husband is credited with Mont Sant-Michel, finding the Château and for throwing in Florence as a very extra special bonus.  What I have learned...generally the food is better in France and Italy has to be my 2nd favourite country in the world.  In writing this holiday blog and sorting through my photographs I learn lots about the places I've been.  As I draw this to a close I have to mention the apples, in boats and hotels along the way there are complimentary fruit baskets, I gather apples and store them in the car door pocket before getting round to sharing with The Husband on the road. 
  welcome home  
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mmmm  mmmm