Wonderful trip to Paris, while pregnant and with a toddler

Visiting Paris is a memorable experience, right?

Having done it with just my husband (when there was just us two) and having previously lived in Paris for seven years in my student years, doing it with a toddler in tow and pregnant was a (totally crazy) different experience.

Only joking, it was still wonderful, and not more stressful because, hold tight, we didn’t cram in too much during our 3 days there.

Packing too many things during the stay can make it stressful, so we wanted to have a relatively free and spontaneous programme, while also having a list of things to do/see. Having one key attraction per day was the perfect amount we found.

So on to what worked well for us?

Stay close to the departure/arrival station

Well, first staying somewhere close to ‘the point of entry’ i.e. for us the Eurostar arrival station, Gare du Nord. We booked an AirBnb apartment about 10 minutes walk from Gare du Nord and that was brilliant. It meant that we could ‘check-in’ first and drop our bags and have a quick refreshment/put my feet up. Also for our toddler it was exciting to discover a new place and enjoy some quiet time before we set off for an outing again.

Beautiful Canal St Martin area

The second good thing about the location of our apartment was that we were quite close to the beautiful canal St Martin, with its many coffee shops, bars and brasseries. So after a quick rest we headed out again and stopped for a late lunch in one of the canal facing, brasseries. Along the canal there is a playground, an additional attraction for our toddler who still had some remaining energies after all.

Being in a different country is interesting when you observe your own child trying to interact with other local children. And before you ask, no I wasn’t providing any kind of translation, to questions, such as “can i have a go at the swing”, that doesn’t need any translating, does it?

Balloon adventure at Parc Andre Citroen

The definite highlight of our trip was the “balloon” adventure. During my years of studying in Paris and working intermittently as an ‘au pair’ I had gained a good ‘children related’ knowledge of playgrounds and adventure parks.

One I was very familiar with was Parc Andre Citroen, in the 15th arrondissement. It is a little bit out of the way and not a main tourist attraction but for kids it is magical. 

The park has a number of gardens and a great fountain court with water jets that can be such great fun, in hot weather. You can sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic while you look at the balloon, which is not a “hot air” but a “tethered” balloon that goes up to 150 metres. The views of the Seine and the Tour Eiffel are splendid and it is not as crowded as the Tour Eiffel or Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

‘Toujours dans mon coeur’ Quartier Latin

Another favourite area I always love to visit when in Paris, is the Quartier Latin or 5th arrondissement, perhaps because I love to go back to the ‘student streets’ of la Sorbonne where I spent many splendid youthful years.

Jardin du Luxembourg cannot be sidelined and hidden in there, is another great adventure playground for kids, “Les Poussins Verts”.  This one was way too busy than the quiet and relaxing Parc Andre Citroen but it is centrally located and you also have to pay a small fee.

One thing we had not noticed on our previous trips, was the lack of escalators or lifts in the “Metro”. If you can manage not to have a buggy or can take with you a collapsible one, underground journeys will be less tiring.

By the end of the third day in Paris, while also quite pregnant, 7th months precisely, I was starting to feel the heat of the streets and the underground and it was soon time to leave.

Eurostar here we come!

Heading towards Gare du Nord and the exciting Eurostar journey, was extremely pleasant and another adventure for our toddler, the train and the tunnel under the sea!

Some photos from the trip, unseen before, enjoy!

I would love to hear if you have been to any of these places in Paris or have any others to share.

Love

Our memorable family holiday in the Ardeche region, south of France

This is the reworked and final draft of my ‘travel feature’ assignment – I shared an earlier version of it here on the blog and after I received some comments (by email, a great benefit of sharing your work) I have reviewed it below.

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For the adventurous family who likes to design their holiday and enjoys driving, France is an excellent destination offering countless possibilities.

After having completed the rite of passage of most British car travellers and spent a week in Brittany, the previous summer, we decided to travel further afield this time, to the south of France.

Our final destination, Vallon Pont d’Arc, a small town in the centre of the Ardeche region, offers spectacular views of the river Ardeche meandering through towering limestone cliffs.

River Ardeche meandering through gorges in the Ardeche

River Ardeche meandering through gorges in the Ardeche. The night before we had a storm raging through but barely bringing temperatures below 30 degrees next morning.

An impressive 60 m high, naturally formed arch gives its name to the town and forms the entrance to this tourist honeypot.

In the summer, streams of colourful canoes go under the Arch in their descent of the river Ardeche, the most popular activity in the area.

With two very young children, our two year old son and our French friends’ one year old daughter, we opted for the comfort of a holiday house. To our benefit the house had been recently renovated, with a particularly exotic touch – a spiral iron stairwell brought from Thailand!

A house within walking distance to the town centre was ideal and soon our early morning strolls for fresh croissants, became a ritual that the children enjoyed.

Vallon Pont d’Arc is centrally located making it easy to go on half-day trips to nearby places. And for us long distance travellers, it was fantastic not to spend a lot of time on the road.

The town itself is home to a host of markets where local producteurs sell their delicious products. Ham, saucisson, wine, cheese and lavender flavoured nougat were some of the delicacies we tried.

Lavender is a local speciality and many by-products are sold in the local Lavender Museum, where visitors can also take photos in idyllic lavender fields.

Lavender fields at the Lavender Museum in Vallon Point d'Arc, in Ardeche

Lavender fields at the Lavender Museum in Vallon Point d’Arc, in Ardeche

Although tempted to only relax by the river or sit in a cafe while watching locals play petanque, we also had more physical activities and went canoeing, through the famous arch and into unspoilt pebbled beaches alongside the river. For those interested in pre-historic art, the area is a real treasure with its many pre-historic caves.

And if after swimming and canoeing in the river, enjoying panoramic views or immersing yourself in history, you feel eager for more, there is still plenty to do.

A number of villages of particular beauty are close by and have old houses clinging on to steep slopes, impressive beaches surrounded by high cliffs and pedestrian only centres where you can cool off with an artisan ice-cream.

Beach by the river Ardeche, in Balazuc

Beach by the river Ardeche, in Balazuc

Having a chocolate and vanilla ice cream might not be the climax for everyone but it certainly was for our son as was the coffee flavour for our friend Jérémie.

The impressive range of activities, natural beauty and culinary delights made Vallon Pont d’Arc a perfect holiday destination, worth getting to after long hours of driving from London. In a car without air-conditioning, I can now reveal, something that we will remedy before our next drive through France.

Holiday plans: where to relax on the Albanian riviera, Drimadhes beach bar

If you have never been to Albania think again. It is an ‘awakening sleeping beauty’ (Lonely Planet words) that has everything to impress, beautiful secluded beaches with crystal blue waters, dramatic landscapes with high peak mountain raising up behind beaches, rich culture and old history and great food at amazing prices.

Albanian Ionian coast from the peak of Mountain of Llogara

While British and other European tourists continue to be chartered to neighbouring Corfu, Albania’s tourism remains exclusive to foreign tourists who love uncharted waters and to Albanian nationals living in other countries.

So if you are part of the lucky ones I would recommend you go to one of the best beaches on the southern coast, Drimadhes beach and to one of the best bars there, that keeps playing some awesome music. The once called ‘Dar bar’ but recently renamed ‘Drimadhes beach’ bar. The bar is now part of the same company that owns Drimadhes Inn nearby, a complex with cabins, a restaurant and swimming pool.

‘Dar bar’ was one of the first bars to open some 8 years ago when the whole bay was empty and undeveloped. It continues to be a cool place to go for a late afternoon beer or mohito, just in time to catch red sunsets over the sea.

Sunset from Drimadhes beach, South of Albania

What makes this place special is the Lounge and Chill music played during the day, with sounds from Londinium, CocoRosie or Bjork. In the evening Albi, a singer plays live music and at weekends DJs are invited.

The position of the bar right by the sea and a number of sun chairs and beds on the beach add charm to the place.

Drimadhes Beach Bar, Southern Albania

I have time to speak to Bledi Mone who in between making coffee and fixing the wifi talks about his biggest passion, windsurfing. Windsurfing is not a very popular sport in Albania so seeing someone on the beach doing it is rare. Bledi boasts abut his skills, which I witnessed on a very windy day when he managed to come back against very strong winds.

Drimadhes Beach Bar

Bledi originally from Fier, was first initiated to windsurfing while working in Greece, by a group of Australian tourists. He continues to practice and wants to make it more popular in Albania with groups of young people and adults, wanting to learn. But it is still early days and while Bledi practices his passion, he still has to make a living. While he speaks about going to very remote corners of the coast where not many people have been and being caught at sea by storms, other people around the bar listen, impressed.

Bledi Mone on his windsurf

So how are things going with the bar, I ask Bledi. ‘This summer was good’ he says, ‘more people have visited the area’. ‘At the same time competition has become tougher as many other bars and restaurants have opened’.

But Bledi and his colleagues remain upbeat. Whatever happens people will always come to this bar, to have a moment of peace and unwind from busy lives.

September is considered past the season in Albania and most places will close down until next summer. Drimadhes bar is still going and although the weather wasn’t great, a Saturday morning a number of visitors arrived at the bar parking their cars with Kosovo plates, nearby. They had travelled a long way to come to this place for the weekend. ‘We love it here’, says a mother of two little boys, who are having fun playing in the waves. ‘Despite the long journey, the climate here is good, for the children and for us’.

At the beach in Southern Albania

In the morning not much happens, people sip their expressos while contemplating the sea and chilling with the waves of ‘Cafe del mar’ beats. The afternoon becomes more animated and in the evenings I am told, in high season it is party time. Albanians can be very expressive with their dancing and partying style, wearing minimal dresses and high heals and enjoying a good old dancing on the bar. Spontaneous parties can make a breakthrough during a hot afternoon and part of the enjoyment is spraying with beer and water over bodies barely clothed in bikinis and shorts. This has come to be called the Albanian Mallorca ‘partying style’.

‘We have that here as well’, says another waiter smiling, while he serves coffee.

Having gone to Drimadhes in September, outside the season I didn’t witness the hot fiestas but had a great chilling out time at Drimadhes beach bar.

Relaxing by the beach in Southern Albania

I would invite you all to put this place in your diaries for your next year’s adventures. This place is only the first in line on the southern coast of Albania and is followed by many more similarly impressive beaches and local villages, so if you want to discover more there is plenty.

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View of roof-tops from Tate St Ives

IMG_9151 by laura shimili
IMG_9151, a photo by laura shimili on Flickr.

It is St Ives, Cornwall featured again in day 26 photo. Or rather the roof tops of St Ives seen from the cafe of Tate St Ives, which is part of Tate galleries. I like the different forms and shapes in the image and the very fine line of the background still showing detail of the sea, lighthouse, land and sky. And the juxtaposition of different tones of colours. What about you?

Playing time by the beach in St Ives, Cornwall

A fantastic day in St Ives, Cornwall, south west of England for locals and visitors. It was such a warm and bright day that everyone was outside, waking on the beach or along the promenade or sitting in cafes outside.

The town of St Ives is vey pittoresque and attracts many visitors. There is a long tradition of painting and lots of galleries and art shops all around St Ives but also in neighbouring Mousehole or Penzance. The arts tradition may be the reason why there is a Tate gallery in St Ives which was showing a beautiful exhibition Aquatopia when we were there.

This was our second day visiting Cornwall on our own, without Edward and the day we enjoyed the most. Would love to go back.

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This is also my answer to the Daily Post theme – playtime http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/daily-prompt-play/

Four people and two bikes by the beach in Coney Island, New York

Memories from New York, Coney Island. I don’t think these four people have anything to do with the two bikes, but I like how they are next to each other in this image.

It looks as if people and objects are enjoying a moment of peace by the sea.

Day 25 from a photo a day (which has become a little bit irregular recently but I do my best 🙂

15th century Albanian church in Kepi i Rodonit

This is the church of Shen Ndreu (St Antony) in a beautiful, unspoilt part of Albania on the West Coast on the Adriatic Sea. The area is called Kepi i Rodonit, and it is on the Rodoni bay, north of Durres, one of the biggest cities of Albania.

The church is from the 15th century and because it was given prominence during the reign of Skenderbeg, the Albanian national hero, it is related to his name. People call it the church of Skenderbeg in St Mary’s monastery. The church is a place of faith still used today, particularly on 13 June where peregrines come from all around Albania and neighbouring countries. It is believed to be a sacred place.

This is an area that is very local, out of the beaten path and the surrounding villages and natural resources have remained unspoilt from buildings, cafes, quarries and other signs of ‘development’. Long may this last.

Also people’s language here is strong and it has its own accent.

Not far from here is the Rodoni castle that was built by Skanderbeg and you can still see the remains of it very close to the coast.

 

 

Enjoying the sunshine in New York’s high line

The man in the photo below is lying on a bench in the High Line in New York, a disused train line track which has been converted into a very pleasant ‘promenade’ that has become famous as an urban innovation and a destination for tourists and locals. People visiting New York from all around the world have the High Line on their top visiting places. For me going to New York, was one of the furthest places I have been (the furthest is Japan really but will post about it another time) and one of the most enjoyable places.

Although the transformation of the high line has happened three years ago, industrial presence lingers on. In some places I found diesel smells quite noticeable, reminding me of the high line’s past railroad activities. The line fallen into disuse was saved and transformed (by friends of the High Line) and now trees and plants are growing all over it. Soon nature will take over the ‘aerial green way’ as New Yorkers call it.

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Day 21 – enjoying sunshine in New York’s high line

At this point this post gets political as I want to link it to another story that is happening now in Albania. For those reading for the ‘Come fly with me’ daily post, you can stop here or continue, the rest is going to be different and looking to raise awareness.

There have been rumors and behind the doors decisions that have been discussed about Syrian chemical weapons to be destroyed in Albania, between American and Albanian officials. The rumors are that we Albanians, don’t have much choice over the decision, because those asking or imposing it are the big USA, so we the little forgotten South West European country, don’t really have a choice but to accept.

I don’t know how true this is and we are all waiting for the decision of our government to be announced. And if it is yes, we will see thousands of tons of chemicals weapons arriving in Albania to be destroyed in our country. The sad part is that Albanians have been going through very difficulty times, trying to develop and emerge from a ruthless communist regime that stagnated the country for generations. One of the ways out has been considered the development of Albania as a tourist destination. Albania has beautiful beaches, delicious food, rich history and culture. So you could see how slowly this could have been achieved by investment and promotion. People are worried that destroying thousands of tons of chemical weapons in Albania will put a stop to these initiatives and will ruin Albanians natural resources. They are also worried about consequences on people’s health as they don’t trust we have the capacity to do a good job in destroying these chemical weapons.

So instead of a beautiful image of someone relaxing on the beach or on a bench like the man in this photo, we may see ruined countryside, poisoned land, abandoned villages etc. Is this really fair? Is this the kind of democracy the USA want to promote in the world? This man could be lying on a bench in Tirana or another Albanian city but he’s not, he is in New York. Double standards? Surely but I hope people will be strong to oppose and object the arrival of chemical weapons in Albania. The transformation of the high line was made possible by a group of people. The power of people can be strong, lets hope it will save Albania this time.

Day 20 – a different view of St Ives Cornwall

Here is an alley and not a room with a view over the sea in St Ives, Cornwall. I like this image as its quite simple, it is framed by walls on both sides and the sky and the alley in the other two. The colour of they sea is peaceful and the view of a ship in the middle invites one on dreams of voyage. It is a shame for the black sign that is lying against the fence, I should have removed it when I took the shot. But then it is a sign of human activity, a pub sign that invites to more revery.

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Thinking about the Daily Post’s theme today ‘Non-Regional Diction’ or ‘Local’ I will link to this image as this is a very local corner of South West England, in Cornwall and the image does not show the typical view of St Ives, the harbor, the promenade etc.

Do you agree?

Delicious Albanian dishes from amazing Mrizi i Zanave

Three beautiful and delicious dishes from Mrizi i Zanave restaurant, in the village of Fishte, near the city of Shkodra in Albania.

The village is also known from Gjergj Fishta, who wrote a collection of poems “Mrizi i Zanave” although his masterpiece that gave him the title of national poet, is the national Albanian epic “The highland lute”, first published as a whole in 1937 in Shkoder that recounts Albania’s historical battles for freedom and independence from the Turks and Montenegrins.

“Mrizi i Zanave” restaurant has now grown to be famous in Albania and abroad, with its original menus and combination of the traditional with modern elements. It is set in the countryside, run by a chef-entrepreneur Altin Prenga, that is from the area, lived and worked in Italy for a number of years and returned to Albania to open his own restaurant. The enterprise employs local people and cultivates its own produce and sources others from local farmers. It is also part of the “slow food movement”.

“Mrizi i Zanave” was also visited by Rick Stein in his culinary journey “From Venice to Istanbul” where he sampled an Albanian speciality of “hand-made pasta with chicken and spices bake” (Jufka me mish pule).

The first dish below is a selection of starters, including a selection of pickles with pickled peaches amongst others, olives, homemade bread, fresh feta cheese, homemade fruit syrup and cloves of garlic and a pie with spinach and corn flour.

The second dish is a selection of grilled aubergines and deep fried flowers of courgette or zucchini bush, in batter.

The third dish is lamb shishkebabs, with potatoes and fresh porcini mushrooms from the mountains of Puka, further up north of Albania.

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Just looking at these images makes me want to go back to this place. If you’re in Albania and you’ve never been, don’t wait any longer. And If you haven’t been to Albania, well maybe it’s time to think again?

A friend as written an excellent review of the place Mrizi i Zanave, the subtle savour of culinary delights of Northern Albania

 

The daily post at wordpress.com today was about Food for the Soul (and the Stomach) and I chose this post as one that perfectly addresses the theme.