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Asia, Europe, France, Italy, Sri Lanka, Travel

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

March 1, 2017

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Every once and while when I travel I run across the unexpected and the surprising. Many times these are hidden gems. They could be lesser known destinations, an unexpected hotel or a travel experience. Many times they may only be a hidden gem to you and not necessarily to others.

Places

Slovenia – Slovenia is a hidden gem to most people even those who know of the famous Lake Bled and its church. What struck me the most was the beauty of Slovenia. It hits you right as you walk out of the doors of the airport where snowy peaks greet you with green pastures below.

Dropped into a Fairytale in Slovenia

Driving from Ljubliana to Radenci, the green pastures and mountains continued, but I also saw lots of fields filled with yellow flowers. Cows grazed at angles on the sides of hills. Church steeples shot up from the valley floors and called to your with their bells to come see their beauty.

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Florence – Florence – is definitely a hidden gem to me. It took me three trips to Italy to finally go there. This was only after my Mom spent hours extolling the greatness that is Florence. Don’t ask me why I didn’t want to go. I was more into Rome and Venice, and now Florence is my heart in Italy. So much so I went three times last year! I think it is the fact that the city is a museum and there are over 70 museums to visit. I have only seen about nine of these even though I have been there three times. Guess I will have to go back!

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Giverny – Many people know Giverny because Claude Monet painted many of his paintings there. What some people don’t realize is that he painted his famous Water Lilies pieces based off a pond on his property there. You can visit both his house and his gardens. As a Monet fan, I had to do this when I went to Paris. Most travel sites talk about to go from Paris to Giverny as a day trip. However, there is more to Giverny than Monet.

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Monet must have inspired gardens in Giverny.  The whole town is one long garden. Many people that live here have gardens in their front yard that line the main street, and they are lovely. There is a small area where shops and restaurants can be found. I had this “salad” there that was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Salad is in quotes because while there were vegetables, there was no lettuce of any kind.

Hidden Travel Gems Found While Traveling

While I can’t be sure, as it is the only small French town I have been to, it was the classic French country village. I walked from one end to the other several times and rarely saw another person until I reached Monet’s house. It has the added benefit of Monet’s house and the Giverny Museum of Impressionism.

Hidden Travel Gems Found While Traveling

Hotels

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum – Booking a hotel hours before staying there is not usually my style, but I would happily do it again if it led to hotels like this. Not having tons of time to research the hotel, I didn’t realize it used to be a monastery that was built in 1275! There are only 18 rooms in this hidden gem. Each one is unique.

Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum

That isn’t all! The ancient Roman baths are below and have been transformed into a spa. I had one of the best massages of my life in this spa. The space is gorgeous, and you can relax the underground pool.

Heritance Kandalama – Hidden in the jungle is a hotel that is probably the longest hotel in the world. The hotel was built by famous Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. The hotel was built into nature with open air hallways so that rain and animals could move around and under the hotel unobstructed. There was a warning on the balcony door to keep it closed, so monkeys won’t come inside!

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Never in my life have I wanted to stay a hotel one more day so I could take pictures of it. It sits on a reservoir that imitates a lake. Birds, monkeys, elephants and giant squirrels can be seen on the property. The views over the reservoir are also stunning. There will be a full review of the hotel coming soon, but this is a sneak preview!

Hidden Gems Found While Traveling

Want to share your hidden travel gems? See how below.

Art, Europe, France, Hotel/Accommodation, Paris, Travel

The Beautiful French Countryside in Giverny

July 10, 2015

 

Giverny isn’t just the home of Monet, it is a beautiful town to explore. Visiting Monet’s House and Gardens isn’t the only thing to do. The village of Giverny is very pretty. Someone asked me after my last post if Giverny was run down, as he had been told it wasn’t worth visiting. I disagree. Yes, the town has some run down houses and over grown wild areas, but I wouldn’t say the whole village was like this. It actually added to the charm of the place. It is exactly what I expected a small French country village to look like.

Since I took the train to Giverny, I walked from the bed and breakfast I was staying at to all the places I went. The day I arrived, I walked to have dinner. I discovered that all of Giverny is one big garden. Almost every house I passed had a beautiful garden or had lovely plants outside. Many of the homes have historic plaques out front relating to what artist was living there during Monet’s time. The walk was not only beautiful, but informative.

There are things to do other than Monet’s house as well. You could easily spend the day reading all the historic plaques. I only read some of them. The Church Sainte Radegonde is worth a visit. The church is Roman and the original part of the church was built in the 11th century! It was expanded between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Claude Monet is buried in the graveyard along with some of his family.

There is also the Impressionist Museum. The museum is just down the street from Monet’s house. The museum is dedicated to the history of impressionism. It is run in part by the Musee d’Orsay. Keep it mind that both it and Monet’s house are not open in the winter months. It also has a garden and wonderful restaurant.

Where to stay? There are many small bed and breakfasts in Giverny. However, my recommendation would be to stay at Les Jardins de Helene. This bed and breakfast is run by the wonderful Sandrine. Sandrine moved from Paris to Giverny with the dream of running a bed and breakfast. She is truly passionate about making people feel welcome and at home. The house is located on the edge of town about a kilometer and a half from Monet’s House. While it is a distance from town, it was great because I might not have explored the town otherwise. Les Jardins de Helene has four rooms each with access to a private bathroom. There is a wonderful garden in the back you are welcome to use with a coy pond. Sandrine serves a simple, but great breakfast. When I was there it included homemade stewed fruit and locally baked bread. Sandrine was very responsive to all my emails and even got me a ticket for Monet’s house so I didn’t have to wait in line. I only wished I had booked more nights in Giverny so I could of enjoyed the town and Les Jardins de Helene for longer.

Art, France, Paris, Travel

Monet’s Gardens

July 6, 2015

The highlight of my trip to France was visiting Monet’s house in Giverny. Claude Monet is my favorite artist. I have loved his work since I was in high school. In particular the Water Lilies series. So when I decide I was going to Paris, I knew I was going to take a trip to his house in Giverny where he painted the Water Lilies.  Giverny is a short train ride from Paris, so you can make it a day trip. My recommendation would to be to stay at least one night so you can be at the gate to Monet’s house at 9:30AM when they open.

I highly recommend buying your ticket in advance to avoid the lines at the main gate. If you purchase your ticket in advance, you can go down a narrow alley way and enter with the group tours and not through the main gate. This is also a more pleasant visual experience than the main entrance. The main entrance leads you through the gift shop, which used to be Monet’s studio. Then you enter the garden down some steps. However, you enter through the back part of the garden and get a full view of the garden upon entering. The only downside is that you might be entering with large tour groups. I still felt it was worth it. I walked around the garden admiring the variety of flowers and all the bees! If you are afraid of bees, the summer time might not be the best time to visit. They were everywhere. They were not bothering anyone and I have never seen such a variety of bees! The bees seemed very happy to be there. To get to the water-lily pond, you have to take an underground tunnel that traverses the road. As far as I could tell there was no elevator so bear that in mind if you have walking issues. You might have to ask the staff how to get over there. Both the garden and the water-lily pond are stunning! You can see Monet’s paintings in reality in front of you. I was a surreal feeling. The caretakers seem to have left everything as he had planned. It is still hard for me to imagine Monet creating all this for himself to paint. It was such an undertaking. There was an army of people working in the garden and the water-lily pond, so I imagine Monet had is work cut out for himself.  Although, I am sure he had help as he did have to paint!

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You can visit the house. While I did go through, the house is small and it was hard to see anything with so many people inside. You couldn’t really stop to look at anything. I would say avoid it unless you really have to see where Monet slept. Although you do get to see his original studio in the house.

To get to Giverny from Paris, take the train from the Gare de Saint-Lazare to Vernon. You can then either take the shuttle bus to Giverny, which will drop you near Monet’s house or you can take a taxi. Since I was staying the night and had luggage, I took at taxi. As I said before, I recommend staying the night so you can relax. Giverny is a lovely town with lots of French country charm and gardens. I am planning on going back during a different season to beat the crowds and relax a little. My next post will give you some recommendations of a place to stay and what else to see in Giverny.

Want to learn more about Monet? Visit Artsy’s page about Claude Monet.

Europe, Food, France, Paris

Eating My Way Through Paris

June 29, 2015

I was hoping to write about all the great restaurants that I ate at in Paris. Unfortunately, each place only really did well in some areas and failed in others. So instead, I am going to tell you what food I did and didn’t like.

First off they seem to do smoked salmon really well. Not that I had ever had it before! It never looked appealing to me. However, I accidentally ordered it on my first night in Paris at my hotel.  The picture above is what I got and it was amazing! If it hadn’t been so expensive, I would have ordered another! This was on a bed of some kind of soft bread with a chive cream cheese spread between.  It literally melted in my mouth. I am now hooked on smoked salmon.

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Meat! They love it! I hardly saw chicken on the menu. While I enjoy meat, I don’t like to eat it very often. I found this to be a huge challenge. One night, I sat down and ordered the plat du jour, which is usually the chef’s choice. Little did I know I was getting veal! I usually don’t eat veal. However, it was too late. It was okay. The best part about it was the bed of cous cous it was sitting on and the olives. As you can see it looked great! IMG_2784

Another night of meat! Although it was started off with another round of smoked salmon on top of a cabbage salad. I was on a tour for a part of my trip and the menu was set at this place, otherwise I wouldn’t have ordered meat.  Since there was no menu, I don’t know much about this except that it is marinated for hours in wine. Might have been beef bourguignon. This was better than the veal. The meat was really tender. I did not enjoy the fact that the meat was served with all the fat still attached. I kept having to eat around it. Overall, I enjoyed this meal!

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Of course, wine! The French are known for their wine. This one pictured, Tradition by Les Vignerons de Buzet, was really great and not too expensive. It was suggested by our tour guide and was only 14€. It was smooth and not too strong of a red. We didn’t know it at the time, but the winery uses no chemical fertilizers on their vines. All the French wine I tried was great. I really got to like Cotes du Rhone region wine the best. Even the cheap bottles were good!

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This was by far the best thing I ate, although it wasn’t in Paris. It was in Giverny. The restaurant called it a Summer Freshness in Feta Cheese Salad. One layer was tomatoes, spices and sauce and the next layer was feta cheese with chives. I am really not sure what the pink stuff was on top and it didn’t have much flavor. May have just been for looks.  The taste was indescribable, but exactly as described as it was light and refreshing! I wanted them to bring me more, but I knew I had two more courses coming.

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Fish is what I kept ordering in place of meat. I was disappointed twice and stopped ordering it. The fish was usually flavorless and the sides were also plain. The fish above looked so good, but had no taste and was really expensive! The night I had the Summer Freshness salad, I had ordered salmon and it was also very plain. I would say cooked fish is not something they do well in France. Stick to the smoked salmon!

IMG_2817One afternoon I passed by a Mexican food restaurant and I thought, as a Texan, it is my duty to try it. Had to be better than what we have in Doha. The menu had very authentic things on it like enchiladas and tacos. There were a few people inside, so it couldn’t be that bad. They brought chips and salsa which was a good sign. The salsa tasted homemade. I ordered the pork taco. Instead of several small tacos, I got one large taco. The pork was almost bbq pork, but it tasted really good. However, the taco was too big to pick up and eat. The star of the dish was the peach “salsa” they served on the side. It was more like a salad though. It was peaches, jalapenos, cilantro and spices mixed together. Another thing I wanted more of, in fact, I saved it to finish after the taco.

IMG_2832Sometimes after over a week of rich food, you just want something normal to you to eat. I googled my way to a cheeseburger. While it wasn’t bad, it was served on an English muffin! The fries were actually pretty good too.  I had also decided I didn’t want to pay 20€ for a burger, so I found my way to a chain that was decked out American Diner style with pink and blue chairs and booths with oldies playing in the background.  It didn’t matter cause it hit the spot.

A few tips about eating out in Paris. Ask for tap water or a carafe or they might bring you expensive bottled water. Coffee is cheaper ordered at the bar of a restaurant and drunk standing up. You will have to ask for the check, as the French are never rushed to eat a meal! Bon appetit!

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