Most of the stories are lost, but the château remains, in all its intricate splendour, for travellers to walk through, admire, and imagine as it was 400 years ago.
The dreamy asymmetrical figure of the château emerges from behind the quaint houses of the town square in Chantilly, and we are transported into a fairy tale kingdom of moats and castles and unhappy princesses. Home to the Montmorency family in the 17th century, the walls of the castle and the statues on its grounds echo the stories of ball gowns that took hours to put on, of dinners and hunting parties; of visits by the king ending in the unfortunate suicide of the anxiety-ridden maître d'hotel under threat of the late arrival of the fish; of how the pomposity of architecture for the rich bored the owners to the point of creating a decorative 'hamlet' in the park to capture the 'simplicity' of rural life.
Most of the stories are lost, but the château remains, in all its intricate splendour, for travellers to walk through, admire, and imagine as it was 400 years ago.
Weekends in Paris, especially in the summer, can be crazy and jam-packed with tourists. If you can spare the time, it's best to spend the weekend avoiding sights such as the Eiffel Tower like the plague, and instead opting for a local-style urban relaxation. This is how we spent last Sunday in Paris.
Start your day at the Petit Palais. Wander around the exhibition halls, and follow up with some tea or a chilled pea & mint soup with a view onto the beautiful courtyard garden. This museum isn't as popular with tourists as some others, so you'll escape the crowds here, but you'll be hard-pressed finding a table in the garden, as this spot is very popular with locals - totally worth the wait though!
Get on the metro to Saint Paul, and queue for some ethnic street food at King Felafel Palace on Rue des Rosiers. Walk a few houses down and step through the archway at number 10 to eat your take away pita in the charming Jardin des Rosiers - Joseph Migneret.
Walk lunch off in the streets of Le Marais. Drop in a few boutiques, sit down to listen to street music on the edge of the sidewalk, and be sure to keep an eye out for the dancing grandma of Le Marais - we found her and her accompanying band across from the Carnavalet Museum on Rue des France-Bourgeois.
Stop for cafe au lait at a sidewalk cafe. We enjoyed sitting in the little red chairs at Le Petit Italien at 5 Rue Saint-Gilles.
End the day with a walk along the Seine, and a glass of wine on Place Dauphine.
What would you do on a Sunday in Paris? Tell me in the comments below.
A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I took a roadtrip to Marianske Lazne. I wrote about that town in last week's post. While we were there, we decided to spend one day exploring a couple of the nearby cities as well. After studying the map and bus schedules, we decided to spend a day in Cheb and Frantiskove Lazne.
Cheb is a relatively large city, with 33 000 inhabitants, and skimming Wikipedia led us to have if not high, then at least some expectations. Cheb, as it turns out, was once a centre of the Nazi movement: the Nazi manifesto, the 25 point programme, was developed here, and Hitler had visited the city.
I won't lie: we were disappointed. As we walked from the Soviet bus station into the city centre. we found a pedestrian street with a timeline running its length along the ground, transporting the curious and the bored through Cheb's events of historical significance, beginning with its first mention in 807 AD. It seems the street they picked was too long, as events such as Johann Wadmann of Cheb being the first person in history to use + and - signs, and the forced removal of the Sudeten Germans, are casually interspersed with ones such as this:
'Czech genius Jara Cimrman visits the Spalicek complex to have a few glasses of beer.'
,and the fact that in 1723 the population of Cheb was (a very specific) 6 483.
At the end of the street is the historical main square of Cheb. This square is very pretty: the colourful houses in different styles are very typical of the main square of every Czech town, but being very large, and with unusually few cars, we found this square exceptionally nice. Unfortunately, it's the only thing Cheb seemed to have going for it. We walked a little further to the main church, St Nicholas, but were disappointed again, and after a quick lunch and a piece of strudel, we headed back to the bus station, and got on the next bus to Frantiskove Lazne.
Note: I was concerned the attached photos of Cheb made it look too pretty. As I'm not interested in sharing ugly photographs, these photos are the colourful highlights of an otherwise monotone and uninspiring city.
It was clear from the moment the bus pulled into the town that we had made the right decision by leaving Cheb early in favour of spending the rest of the day here. Frantiskove Lazne is another spa town, and the concept is basically the same as that of Marianske Lazne; that is to say that you will spend time strolling through manicured forest park, from water source to water source, silly little cup in hand, sipping on salty water. Though much smaller than Marianske Lazne, this town somehow feels much more alive. Just a 10 minute bus ride from gloomy Cheb, you are transported to the French Riviera, sans sea. Grand pastel yellow hotels make up the main pedestrian boulevard, Narodni (National Street). Palm trees in large pots line the promenade, and three vintage cars, charmingly marked as belonging to the Veteran Car Club of Karlovy Vary, are the only vehicles in sight. At the end of the boulevard is a square with various mineral-water-drinking facilities, from springs, to shops selling cups and Lazenske Oplatky (spa wafers), to perhaps the most important - the public toilets. From here we walk along the paths of the expansive park, stop at each spring along our way, and watch the little yellow tourist train twist through the trees back towards the boulevard.
Like Marianske Lazne, the water here comes in many different temperatures, chemical compositions and colours. Signs indicate the mineral content and physical properties of a particular source, and we brave the foul smells, pour ourselves half a cup, and try to ignore the unappetizing colour --
At least it's good for you.
Despite all the horribleness of the taste, it's fun to spend the day trying and comparing and discussing whether the second source really tasted worse than the first one, or if perhaps the third was worst of all.
Our visit to Frantiskove Lazne was short, and although we saw everything there was to see, I think that we would enjoy coming back again, to unwind, recharge, and rest: as such, Frantiskove Lazne is our constipation-curing spa town of choice.
Not all holidays require a huge expenditure or long period of time: I'm a big fan of the common day trip or weekend getaway. Recently, I visited a few Czech towns that I will be writing about over the next few weeks. The first of these was Kutna Hora, a pretty little town about an hour's train ride from Prague. Kutna Hora literally translates to 'mining hill' - this town was an important European silver mining centre during the Middle Ages.
There are three main reasons to visit Kutna Hora, besides of course circling around the pretty but unmemorable little streets of the city centre. The first reason is the silver mine. If you think visiting a silver mine means just walking on down some steps and taking a look around, you're wrong: at Kutna Hora, you're first dressed up as the ghost of miners past, paraded through the streets of town in a group of 25, dressed in lab coat-like cloaks and glossy hard hats, much to the amusement of confused tourists. But this is all part of the appeal. You are then led down a long set of stairs leading deep into the ground, where you are guided through the dark, narrow tunnels, imagining what it would have been like to work in these mines in the 13th century. It is certainly an offbeat and unquestionably memorable experience.
For the hungry --
On your return to the surface, a stop for livanecky (little Czech pancakes) at cafe Luver just across the street is certainly not unwarranted. After all, all that bending over and squeezing through tiny archways must count as a workout.
The two other major attractions of Kutna Hora are both beautiful and atmospheric churches - but they could not be more different from one another. The first is the Church of St. Barbora, which stands grandly on top of the hill that is the historic centre of Kutna Hora. St. Barbora was patron saint of miners, and the Gothic church stands as a reminder of the town's history and wealth when the mines were operational. For a few crowns extra, you can climb the winding staircase up to the interior balcony of the church. This is definitely worth it, and provides a fascinating and unique perspective: it is especially interesting to look up close at the angels adorning the top of the organ, which stands grandly one flight of stairs lower.
Last, but absolutely not least, the most intriguing monument at Kutna Hora is the Sedlec Ossuary. For the uninitiated, an ossuary is basically a place where the bones of the dead are stored. Here, a 19th century woodcarver named Frantisek Rint took an, ahem, creative approach to storage solutions for the bones of tens of thousands of people who had been buried in the overflowing churchyard cemetery during the middle ages. Frantisek carefully arranged the skeletal remains of between 40 000 and 70 000 people into ornamental altars, garlands, coats of arms, and the centrepiece of the church, a bone chandelier containing at least one of every bone found in the human body. Even his signature was created using bones, and attached to an interior wall. It's a macabre and somewhat grotesque sight, but is also exquisite, unique, and certainly unforgettable.
Come back next week for another Czech town profile! What other Czech day trips would you like to write about? Tell me in the comments below.
Summertime is finally in full swing, and for me, that screams one word: picnics, and lots of them. Picnics are such a fun way to celebrate the beautiful weather, enjoy each others' company, and eat some good food in the process. They're also a great way to save money when travelling, or while out exploring, as they're usually much cheaper than eating out.
Last week, Mark and I decided to open our picnic season with an Italian-inspired meal, and cooked up several light recipes to take with us. On the menu were a Caponata salad with eggplant and avocado, baked parmesan zucchini chips, and foccacias with goat cheese, pesto and prosciutto. All of these were really easy to make, and turned out really well. In addition, we also brought along some mushroom pastries that Mark's grandma sent over, some strawberries for dessert, and a bottle of wine.
We packed it all up in an old picnic basket with my plastic wine glasses and a blanket, and set off. We soon realized that baskets are only really convenient if you're getting to your picnic spot by car - but hey, it looked pretty.
The next challenge was, of course, to find the perfect spot. We had wanted to set it up in the apple orchard by the Strahov Monastery here in Prague, but when we got there, we found that the grass was really tall and the slope was uncomfortably steep for setting out our meal on, so we continued walking. As we walked down a quiet little street towards the city centre, I noticed some grassy steps lining one side of the street, and suggested that we climb up on them and have our picnic there, with a view of the dome of St. Nicholas Church at the bottom of the hill to one side, and of the colourful houses of Nerudova on the opposite side of the orchard to the other. We laid out our food, and watched passers-by in the midday sunshine. Of course, we had forgotten to bring a corkscrew, so we had to get creative, and after experimenting briefly with a couple of techniques suggested by Google, including the bizarre idea of banging the bottle with a shoe (is this really a thing, anyone???), we pushed the cork into the bottle, and it floated there for the duration of our meal.
I find that picnics always create rosy memories and great stories. Not only that, but they're also a unique summer activity that allows you to get a little bit creative; between making and/or buying food, finding the perfect location, and eating outside with friends and loved ones, you're sure to have lots of memorable adventures.
We loved our Italian picnic, and are already excited about all the ideas that we have for the other picnics that we're planning this summer.
Will you be picnicking this summer? What is your favourite picnic food, and where do you go? Do you like this kind of 'diary' post? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
During my recent visit to Turkey, I stayed in the Korumar Hotel De Luxe in the city of Kusadasi. Though not a huge city, with a population of approximately 50 000, however it is a busy port town and tourism centre. To get away from the crowds for a few hours and get a glimpse of the centres of livelihood in the countryside, we explored two small villages: Kirazli, population 900, a farming town, and Sirince, population 600, a wine village with a growing tourist presence. This post is about our visit to Kirazli, and I will shortly be uploading a second post about the Sirince.
We discovered the village of Kirazli online, and when we asked our hotel reception how to get there, they were a little confused as to why we wanted to go, and where it even was. Kirazli means cherry in Turkish, and is named for the cherry trees that are just about the only thing the village is known for. For a small sum, a taxi drove us to Kirazli and dropped us off in the main street, a dirt road with a tiny convenience store, a bakery manned by the old baker himself, and several streetside cafes, bustling with village men drinking their afternoon çay (tea) and smoking. Our driver promptly seated himself at a table in the nearest cafe and ordered his own çay, while we walked off to explore the village.
We walked past a fish vendor surrounded by customers on one side and at least 10 kittens on the other, both eager to get their hands on the morning's catch. Turning off the main street, we walked through the winding streets of run down houses, painted white on the bottom to keep insects away. No one we met spoke a word of English, but all assumed that we were lost, and tried to point us in the direction of one of the Kirazli's two boutique hotels, one with 5 rooms and one with 8. The afternoon prayer call sounded, and a dog howled wildly towards the minaret of the village mosque.
As we made our way up the hill through the streets, charmingly lined with plants growing in sunflower oil and feta cheese containers, we came to a neighbourhood with several houses that stood out from the rest, with small pools and fresh paint. At the very top of the hill, overlooking the village, we found one of the hotels, the charming Ephesus Boutique Hotel. We rang the bell in the front room, and asked if we could come in for a cup of coffee. We were led into a sunny, circular room with a few tables. At a table by a window sat Mustafa, the owner, in front of a laptop, under a string of drying chilli peppers hanging from the ceiling. He greeted us, and drank çay with us, while telling us in near-perfect English about how he had been a university economics professor in Istanbul, and owned a successful travel agency there, but how since he had retired he had found peace in managing his little hotel in this sleepy village, working in the garden and traveling to Istanbul to take care of his business once a week.
On our way back to the taxi to go home, we stopped in the bakery to a circular loaf of spiced flatbread, and at the convenience store for fresh Turkish delights from its impressive display. Our driver had, by this time, drank several glasses of çay and made at least 5 new friends, who had joined him at his table. As we pulled into the Kusadasi city centre and got out on a busy shopping street, we wondered at the extreme difference between lifestyles separated by a mere 10km stretch of road.
The second part of this post will be up in a few days - come back for a journey to the wine village of Sirince.
While planning my recent trip to Turkey in April, one of the places that I was most eager to discover was Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient cities in the entire world. So, on arriving in Kusadasi, we immediately arranged a day trip to see Ephesus.
Our wonderful guide, Mehmet, picked us up at our hotel at 9AM, and drove us through the rolling hills and olive groves of the Selcuk region towards Ephesus . Along the way, he introduced us to the sites we were about to visit and we chatted about life in Turkey: ancient and modern alike.
Next, Mehmet took us to the main destination of our trip: Ephesus. As we walked along the 3000 year old roads of the Roman city, it wasn't difficult to imagine life in the city. Although things have undoubtedly changed, most notably the disappearance of toilet-seat warming slaves (yes, I'm serious!), the basic foundations of city life remain the same. Walking through Ephesus, we passed the parliament; two marketplaces; a theatre; a public toilet; a library; some residences. It is impossible not to notice the parallels with the modern city, and come to the realization that these ancient civilizations not only laid the foundations of their own cities, but also those of modern life as we know it.
One of the most fascinating things to see was the Romans' ingenuity in their heating and plumbing systems: that's right, the Romans were heating their houses in the 2nd century BC. They heated water using a furnace and ran the hot air through spaces under the floor and in the walls to heat up each room. WOW. They even created a natural pressure system to transport their water through the pipes: they would make pipes where the hole on one side was larger than that on the other, creating natural pressure that could push the water up and down and around the entire plumbing system.
Seven Roman houses have been incredibly preserved in a specially designed enclosed space: one has been preserved so well that all the original wall paintings are intact, and you can walk on a platform above the house and see all the rooms: bedrooms, a prayer room, a dining room and a courtyard, all decorated with different symbols on the walls: the Eros, the God of love, in the bedroom, birds in the kichen, etc.
The symbol of Ephesus is, of course, the stunning Library of Celsus, the facade of which is fully standing, In its time, this was the third largest and richest library in the world, housing more than 12 000 scrolls.
So, by this time I was thinking: wow, look how thought through this all was! Where did all the people go? Why didn't this city continue to prosper? Unfortunately, this site seems to have had it's share of bad luck. In ancient times, this city used to have its own port; gradually, the sea level dropped, and today Ephesus is almost 10 km away from the Aegean. Lack of access to sea trade routes and water supply took a toll on the city.
The citizens of Ephesus are gone, but the remnants of their lives remain in the form of stones and statues at sites like Ephesus: and what's incredible is that what I saw on my visit is only the beginning. 90% of the city is still underground, yet to be tirelessly excavated by the careful hands of generations of archaeologists: it is estimated that it will be another 400 years until the full city is uncovered.
What are your favourite ancient remains? Are you as fascinated by the idea of civilization in the 10th century BC? Do you like this type of travel diary style post? Tell me your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.
My name is Emilie. I live between Bristol and Prague, travel, drink coffee and explore as much as I can.