Where do I even start?!

“I have seen the south of France, and it is beautiful.” Okay, that’s not really the quote, but this works for my most recent experience(s). Pictures are behind the links. Enjoy!

Our first stop, on the way, was a six hour layover in Amsterdam. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, and while I can’t realistically say that I’ve “stayed” there, we did find enough time to take a canal boat tour and walk around the area for a bit. It was enough for me to declare that I would like to come back and spend a long weekend here.

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For my birthday, and with work obligations fitting in nicely, Wellu decided that a trip around the south of France would be in order, starting off with one of my favorite cities: Toulouse. Toulouse is such a lovely city, with so much to see and do, with a very rich, ancient history. While there in Toulouse, I met the wife of one of Wellu’s colleagues, and we went out for day walks (while our dear hubbies worked!), exploring the city. Since she’d done enough shopping and I had seen the museums, this time around we focused on other parts of the city, and ended up enjoying the ‘jardins’, or gardens in the center of the city. I showed her the farmer’s market, and we bought cheeses, fruits, and vegetables, and made ourselves sick on the sweet cherries and apricots. 🙂

After Toulouse, Zii and her husband headed off to Barcelona (also on my list!), while Wellu and I boarded the train to Avignon. Once again, Avignon is an ancient city, and we stayed in a little place inside the walls, across the street from what used to be a convent, and just a nice walk from the Palais des Papes, (the Palace of the Popes) and the Avignon bridge.

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

We spent two nights in Avignon, then rented a car at the train station, and headed out for a drive and our next stops. First off, we stopped at the Pont du Gard, a Roman-era aquaduct in excellent condition. We thought this would be more of a ‘point and shoot’ stop, but we ended up spending a couple of hours there, crossing the bridge, climbing up the hills on one side, and taking some gorgeous pictures of the view. It really is stunning and well worth the stop.

Pont Du Gard

Pont Du Gard

From there, we went to the Chateau de Tarascon, another stop that surprised us with how much there was to enjoy. This castle was very well laid out, with one winding staircase that you go up, with stops at each floor, and another that you go down, again stopping at each floor. It was a bit on the sparse side, but still lovely.

Chateau de Tarascon

Chateau de Tarascon

Then it was on to Arles, for the roman ruins, and another museum, which was also quite interesting. So much history! We also visited the Museum of Archaeology in Marseille, which gave a fascinating history on the ‘tiny seaside town’. And then it was on to St. Tropez, where the weather conspired against me, giving me only a few hours to lay out on the beach. But the area was beautiful, and it was relaxing even under cloudy skies, to just lay there and gaze at the Mediterranean and contemplate how wonderful my life is.

Ahhh...life is good!

Ahhh…life is good!

The next day, (and my birthday!), we returned the car and then got on the train, headed to Besançon, where Wellu had some collaboration to do with a colleague. That meant that it was up to me to go explore the old city, which I did! I walked over 7 miles (from the time I turned on MapMyWalk), just wandering around. I saw some amazing historical buildings, fascinating clocks — that is what Besançon is known for, clockmaking, and so much beautiful scenery.

Besaçon and the Doubs River

Besaçon and the Doubs River

After a few days in Besançon, we then packed up again, and boarded the train to Paris! This would be our final stay, just a night in the heart of the city, right near Notre Dame (about a block away). Our hotel was situated right on a busy market street, and we got out and walked all over, finally pausing for dinner. The next morning, we checked out, left our luggage behind at the reception, and headed to Versailles. I had been there a few years back, but in the winter, so the fountains were turned off and emptied, many of the statues were covered, and nothing was in bloom, of course.

One of the gardens of Versailles

One of the gardens of Versailles

The lines were insane! Fortunately, we were only going to the gardens (no need to tour the building again), so we didn’t have a long queue at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the fountains were not running all day long. Apparently they run on a schedule, starting at 10am, and cycling through one side of the gardens until about 11:30. Then starting up again at 15:30, and cycling through the other half until late in the afternoon. There were a few that ran every hour. Still, the gardens were breathtaking, and I did get to see a few of the fountains running. The ones we really wanted to see were scheduled for later in the afternoon, and we would already be on our way to the airport. I suppose I will just have to go another time!

Love locks on one of the bridges in Paris

Love locks on one of the bridges in Paris

Finally, we picked up our bags, and headed to the airport, CDG, which is one of the worst airports to get through. It seems to be laid out in a way that has you backtracking or going from one end to the other, and the signage is appallingly sparse. In addition, as I found out all through France, the French don’t tend to speak English, or anything other than French, and too bad if you don’t understand it. I was able to suss through some of it, but it was odd not to have a common language to fall back on.

The trip was long, but wonderful, however there is nothing like returning home to your own bed, own shower, and own routines. We leave again July 4 to go to Oulu, where we will participate in a family reunion of sorts, and pick up Shiva, who is having far too much fun vacationing at the summer cottage!

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Walking, walking, walking

One of my daily goals is to get 12,000 steps a day, per my FitBit. I have been nailing it almost every day! I started using the MapMyWalk app, mainly so that when I return, I can show my route to Wellu and be able to say, “This is where I went…” because I sure as fuck can’t remember when I get home! “Uhm…it was down the street, up a hill, down this muddy path, through some woods…yeah, I just made it back by sheer luck.” Here’s today’s path:

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A little over two miles. Slow miles, because you-know-who has to sniff every freaking bush and pole and rock and clump of dirt or ice or snow…but still, two miles is a goodly distance for me these days.

Today actually was a pretty day, and here it is, past mid-December in Helsinki, and I was sweating under my coat. I had it unzipped when I got home, and I was just steps away from actually taking it off. But then I would have had to haul it around with me.

December 20, 2014, nearly 9:15am. Look...blue sky!

December 20, 2014, nearly 9:15am. Look…blue sky! Sorta.

It’s hard to see in the picture, but there was blue sky there, and by mid-day, there was a lot more of it showing up, too.

Here’s some adorable pictures of Shiva from our walk for you to enjoy:

Cave exploring Shiva!

Cave exploring Shiva!

Watching the other dog from the relative safety of the table top

Watching the other dog from the relative safety of the table top

Last night, we snacked on some of the best wild boar…yum yum!

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That’s some smoked wild boar ham, perfectly aged white cheddar, some Marie Kulta crackers, served up in a cute Moominmomma plate, next to my Moominmaid notebook, on top of my Moominmomma placemat. Too bad you can’t see all the other Moomin goodness on my desk, too. Too bad you can’t taste that wild boar goodness, either. Sorry, not sorry.

We went to go visit some friends near Itäkeskus, and took Shiva with us. She behaved very good, even around their five-year-old, and only barked at his mom a little bit. Until she was petted, and that seemed to appease her. She’s so easy. We had pastries, then we bundled up and headed out to the dog park for a bit. There, she played with a huge old Husky mix named Brutus and a hound dog puppy named Major. I would have taken pictures…but forgot my phone. Oops.

Tomorrow, we head to the Forum to run some errands, then we have to pack! Then on to Oulu Monday….then I return on Friday to get my daughter on Saturday and we take the train to Lapland! OMG….can’t wait!!!

Day 20 Challenge Question: Describe someone whom you’ve lost in your life and the sadness that you feel.

Wow, can’t do this one today. Today is too happy of a day. So let’s just change it to: What makes today a happy day?

Celebrating my middle daughter’s 21st birthday!! OMG…she’s a grownup!! Now she can legally order drinks! Check out this cutie pie!! It would only better if I could be with her.

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My middlest baby, today!!

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