Lille aux Merveilleux

We took a quick Eurostar hop across the pond to Lille, France for a weekend. 

Here we tried a local delicacy called “Merveilleux”. It’s a pastry made from meringue topped with ganache and surrounded with sprinkles. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious!  

Dinner was at a really delicious restaurant called “Le Barber Qui Fume” (The Barber who Smokes), where everything is smoked (really everything). 

We checked out the Lille Zoo which only costs 4 Euro for entry (it used to be free) and has a pretty impressive variety of animals including Red Pandas!

Lille is small so we visited the city quite quickly, but it made for a perfect little weekend adventure :) 


Harjit came to visit us in London during the royal wedding.  

The following weekend, we went to Paris for a weekend since it's been her life-long dream to go there!  We window-shopped, drank wine, walked everywhere, and checked out all of the main tourist sites including Notre-dame, Arc-de-triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Montmarte, the parks, and of course the Eiffel Tower.

We also went to the Louvres where the Mona Lisa gallery was packed with people (as usual)! 
Try to find Harjit in this pic:

Ridge walking the border between France and Spain

Before splitting off with Jess so that she could go hang out with her dad, we decided to all meet up with him and his girlfriend Lena to do a "small" (so they said) hike through the Pyrenees Mountains.  On paper, the hike didn't sound too bad... a 15 km ridge walk between the small town of Bidarray and Saint-Étienne-Baigorry.  Dom’s hip had been acting up since Berlin, so we just planned to do what we could and double back before it hurt too much. 

Turns out we missed the memo about the hike being more like 15km "as a bird flies, and very hilly", so we were a little ill-prepared water-wise.. oops!  What we thought would be a 3-4 hour hike actually ended up being 8 hours.  We realized it was too late to turn back when we arrived at the sign we thought was indicating the end of the ridge, and it turned out to be the half way point sign... might as well continue then! :)

In the end it was a really great outing.  The scenery was amazing, Jen and Jess had a great time stalking the miniature horses, and it was time well spent in excellent company.  We were all feeling pretty happy when we arrived home :)

Here is where we were :)  
The red dot is Bidarray, and we went all the way along the border to Saint-Étienne-de-Baigorry.

Biarritz with Jessica

Our UK work visas expired mid-April, so we had to leave London.  Our client, knowing that we like to travel, asked if it would be any trouble for us to try to stay somewhere near the same timezone.  It just so happened that our old roommate, Jessica, was planning to visit her dad in France at the end of April, so the timing couldn't have been better!  We met up with her in Bordeaux, had breakfast the next morning, and hopped on the train for our next destination, Biarritz.

As usual, we spent our days working while Jess did some pre-exploring of Biarritz.  In the evenings we walked along the coastline absorbing the beautiful coastal scenery, ate ice cream, and tried out a few restaurants.  Most importantly, we hunted down the local bakery to get our fill of proper French bread, cheese, and wine.

On the weekend, we rented a car to visit a couple other coastal towns in the area including Bayonne,

and St-Jean-de-Luz

La Loire

We ended our visit with Jen's parents with a quick tour of the Loire valley, where we spent 2 full days visiting renaissance chateaus.

Chenonceau is the most famous castle in La Loire and the second most visited castle in France.  The nice thing here is that you can even visit the kitchens... it's not just about Madame "rich-person" who lived here, slept here, and read here.. you also get a sense of where the workers worked and lived.

Our B&B host recommended just visiting the gardens of this Chateau, so.. that's what we did!
Chateau d'Ussé
To get to this Chateau, we drove along a very scenic one-way road that wound along the river.  Jen's dad had so much fun driving!


The best part of this entire weekend wasn't the castle...  it was managing to get Jen's parents to jump for the picture! :)

Mont Saint-Michel

For another day-trip, we decided to visit Mont Saint-Michel.  Everyone had been there before except Jen, but it was cool enough that it was worth the long trip even to see it a second time.  

What makes Mont Saint-Michel spectacular is the view you get of the abbey as you approach it from the road.  From far away, all you see is a giant church on top of a little mountain in the middle of nowhere... breathtaking.

As we arrived, we were surprised to find out that a lot had changed since Dom's (2000) and Jen's parent (2011) last visit!
You now have to park a few kilometres from the entrance and take a shuttle bus.  Apparently it's part of a project to make Mont Saint-Michel an island again.  Sadly, the change really impacts the experience and makes it feel more like a Walt Disney attraction :(. 
Hopefully when the bridge is finally finished and the Abbey is surrounded by water and silt, the experience will improve... guess we'll have to come back again to find out!
Lucky for us, the workers at the Abbey seemed to be on strike while we were there, so we got to visit the Abbey for free!
Here's a pic of the bridge construction:


One of our our day trips was to a pretty costal town called Honfleur.  We took a nice stroll around the cute town, window shopped and bought some yummy (and rather expensive!!) local-made dried fruits, and ate lunch at a nice restaurant... what more can you ask for? .. it was a great day!  :)


We managed to meet up with Jen's parent at the Paris train station and proceeded to Roen where we rented a car.  We then drove to a timeshare that they rented in Connelles, a really small village South of Roen.  We enjoyed a week of relaxing in the really nice, spacious timeshare while working and doing a few day trips from here.  

We were happy to indulge in some home cooked meals.. especially Jen's parents who had been living off of ham sandwiches and Kit-Kat during the previous week after experiencing some major price shock in Switzerland :)  We decided to treat them to their first-ever "make your own pizza" night ;)

Here's a tip.. if you don't have a dough roller... try a wine bottle! ;)


Isn't this one of the cutest tomatoes you've ever seen...??  We bought it at the street market, 2 blocks from our apartment.

They're called heirloom tomatoes, and they are really tasty! ...Just look at how wanting-ly Jen cradles it!  ;)

Les Catacombes

One of the popular sites in Paris is the Catacombs.  They were created after people complained of sanitary problems around the nearby cemeteries.  Abandoned quarries were converted into the biggest necropolis in the world.  Now the remains of around 6 million people, lay to rest here....