February 17, 2018

Gems of Normandy

Have you visited the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy?  If so, you’re not alone.  Normandy is a very popular French destination and a lot of this is due to the events that happened 60+ years ago.  You definitely should visit the D-Day beaches, the WWII museum in Caen and those small unique museums you’ll pass driving from beach to beach.  It is hard to imagine the emotions you’ll feel until you are standing there looking out and visualizing the ships and men climbing up the sand.  Until you are actually there it is hard to grasp the immenseness of this endeavor and to fully appreciate what those brave soldiers did for us all.  Yes, it is my opinion that everyone should visit Normandy for this reason but there is much more to this region that should not be overlooked.

Normandy is an area full of orchards, rolling green hills, wonderful seaside villages, history, architectural gifts, art, wonderful seafood and more!  So let’s spend a little time talking about the other gems of Normandy!

Giverny is about an hour outside Paris and home to one of the world’s most famous artists, Monet.  His home and gardens are impressive but you should take the time to visit even though they can become quite congested during the summer months. 

Monet's Garden Normandy France

Monet's Garden

Apple Farms are abundant in Normandy and the drive along the Cider Route is a great adventure.  This route travels through many small captivating Norman villages and enchanting landscapes.  While enjoying the villages and scenery, make sure to stop along the way to enjoy tastes of the local cider, Calvados (Apple Brandy) and Pommeau (a traditional aperitif).  You won’t be disappointed.  The orchards are in full bloom end of April through end of May and harvest is from September to December. 

The seaside resorts of Normandy are full of alluring qualities that will invite you in to take a closer look.  In fact, you can visit any type of town you like from fishing ports, sandy beaches to chic villages complete with casinos.   A short list of the small cozier villages would include France’s oldest seaside resort of Dieppe, Etretat where you can spend hours wandering and viewing the amazing cliffs and rock formations, Trouville a low key version of Deauville and great place to take in the local culture to Cabourg where you can enjoy beaches, avenues bordered by beautiful trees and relive the Belle Epoque.

Cabourg Normandy Fishing Village France


Normandy is also horse country and the place where future champions are raised.  If you love horses a visit to Haras du Pin will not disappoint!  During your visit you will be able to see the stables, training center, blacksmith’s forge, paddocks and saddler’s room.  If you time it right, you may even witness a stallion parade or a show featuring the horses.  Maybe you will want to attend a horse race in Deauville, Cabourg or Caen?

Normandy is home to many food options.  Besides apples, there are many other fruits but cheese and seafood are in the running for top draw.  If you love cheese, then you will be excited to visit Normandy – – home to Camembert, Pont l’Eveque and Livarot cheeses.  A visit to the President Cheese farm will not disappoint!  Keeping with the subject of food, all seafood lovers will be in heaven during any visit to Normandy!  Specialties include herring, scallops and mussels (moules).  In fact, my husband thought he had died and gone to moules heaven during our visit.  To say he ate moules every day would not be an exaggeration!

Honfleur Harbor Normandy France

Honfleur Harbor

Yes there are many things to do in Normandy.  Tell me about your favorite.

Picture of Monet’s Garden by Selena N. B. H.
Picture of Honfleur Harbor by Allan Lee

Bavaria, Bavaria, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. . .

My first trip to Bavaria was in 1982 and I have been passionate about this area ever since.  I mean really passionate.  I get excited about Bavaria just by looking at pictures and I love telling people about this wondrous place.  When I see a picture of a village or scene that looks Bavarian I am over come by a sense of peace, calm and joy.  For me, it is one of the most peaceful and fun places I have been.

Hohenschwangau Bavarian Castle

View from Hohenschwangau

A few years ago we took our 2 teenage children to Munich and south.  During this trip we stayed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and spent time visiting Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles.  One day, after our tours we spent some time on a nearby luge.    I can still remember riding the luge up the hill to begin the downward ride.  Looking to my right, I saw majestic Neuschwanstein Castle high upon a hill and those wonderful cows meandering in the meadow next door.  The first thought in my mind was

View Neuschwanstein Castle Bavaria Germany

View from the luge!

“What could be better than this?”  To this day, I haven’t been able to come up with an answer. Why do I love this area?  I will try to put the reasons into words.  So here goes:

  1. The Lakes.  Who can pass up Starnbergersee, Chiemsee, Tegernsee or Konigsee?
  2. The Castles.  Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, Nymphenberg Palace, Herrenchiemsee, Trausntz or the Imperial Castle in Nuremburg.
  3. The Beer.  Sitting at a Bavarian beer garden is one of the most enjoyable things to do!
  4. The History.
  5. The People.
  6. Those Cows!!  If you’re lucky you’ll be in time to witness the annual cattle drive.
  7. Peace and Tranquility.
  8. The Mountains.
  9. The Window Boxes teeming with geraniums.
  10. The cities.  Make sure to visits Munich, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Coburg along with the smaller villages of Fussen, Inglostadt, Kempten and Rothenburg.
  11. The Food.  Schnitzel, wursts and sauerkraut.  Yum!!
  12. Tradition.  Oompah bands, dancing and dirndls and lederhosen.
  13. The views!
Rothenburg Bavaria Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Take all these together and I think this must be the definition of “Gemutlichkeit”!

While I love Bavaria, I know you must have a country, region, city that evokes much the same for you.  Tell me about it. . .

Linderhof Palace Bavaria Germany

Linderhof Palace

Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Linderhof Palace pictures courtesy of Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH

All other pictures are personal ones taken by me.

Beer Festivals. Munich. No Crowds. You can’t be serious???

So do you like beer, would love to attend a Beer Festival in Munich but hate crowds?  Everyone knows about the grand celebration that takes place in Munich late September into early October called Oktoberfest, right?  During this festival over 1.75 million gallons of beer are consumed which equates to about 30% of all Munich breweries production for the year!  That is a lot of beer to drink in a short 2 week period, but is this the only time to visit Munich for a beer festival?  That answer is no.  In fact, unbeknownst to non-beer aficionados (myself included) there are different beers for each season and, therefore, many reasons to visit Munich for beer other than during the granddaddy of them all, Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest Bavaria Munich

It's time for Oktoberfest!

My personal opinion is, it is always a great time to visit Munich but if you are looking strictly for beer and festivals then you may want to visit in early spring for Starkbierzeit or “Strong Beer Season”.  Beginning after Fat Tuesday, Munich gets ready to welcome the coming warmer weather by celebrating all that is holy, Beer.  Brewers in Munich unleash their version of a Doppelbock, which actually dates back to mid-1600s.  Seems the monks during this time were forbidden to eat food during Lent so they developed a nutritious version of “Liquid Bread” we call Dopplebock!  You may have heard of these beers as they have names like Maximator, Optimator, Unimator or Triumphator.   During this festival the breweries of Munich, such a Paulaner, Augustiner and Lowenbrau, showcase their version along with beer tents, Oompah bands, singing, dancing, and traditional German sausages and pretzels.  All without the crowds experienced during Oktoberfest.  What could be better?

Next we move on to Bavarian Beer Week which coincides with Bavarian Beer Day, April 23.  This date is important because it was on this date in 1516 the Bavarian Purity Law was enacted.  Bavarians take their beer very seriously and because of this law you will not find any rice, tree bark, corn or other flavorings in your Bavarian beer.  Bavarian Beer Week is a celebration of the importance beer has in German life and includes festivals, tastings, brewing

Chinesischer Turm Munich Bavaria Germany

Enjoying beer at Munich's Chinesischer Turm

demonstrations, brewery tours, beer seminars and even free beer!  Yes, free beer may be yours if you show up on Bavarian Beer Day, in front of the Bavarian Brewer’s Federation’s Brewers House in downtown Munich.

Sorry to say, but there are no Beer Festivals during the summer!  During the wonderfully warm summer months all self-respecting Germans spend their free time in their beloved Beer gardens.  If you have never experienced a beergarden during the summer, it is something you definitely need to put on your list of “things to do”.  In Munich, visit the beer garden under the Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten.  Each afternoon you can spend time visiting with Munichers on their way home sitting under the trees enjoying a relaxing beer along with pretzels or even rotisserie chicken!  This experience is wunderbar!  Or try visiting the beer garden at the Viktualien markt.  The Viktualien markt is one of my personal favorite spots in Munich.  This open air market dates back to medieval times and is a place you can gather amazing food snacks and then stop for a beer . . . or two!  Beers during the summer range from blond Maibock to the straw colored Helles beers.

Augustiner Brewery Munich Bavaria Germany

Beer garden Augustiner Brewery Munich

As summer rolls into fall, it is time for Oktoberfest but the fun doesn’t stop here!  As the days shorten and the weather chills, it is time for Festbier Season.   The holiday season is very special in Munich and there is no better way to celebrate than with a special brew.  Festbiers are dark and great for sipping while gazing out the window as the snow falls or strolling amongst the stalls at the Christmas Market.  There is much revelry and celebration that accompanies the magical Christmas Markets.  The original is held at Marienplatz Square where you are surrounded by Medieval architecture and history while shopping for special trinkets.  At the market you can purchase handmade ornaments, toys, and ceramics or enjoy homemade baked apples, sausages or potato pancakes all while enjoying festive holiday music!    After you have wandered the markets shopping for the perfect gift, stop by a beer hall for a Festbier.  In my opinion, that’s the perfect way to shop.

Share your experiences with German beer festivals . . .

Oktoberfest picture courtesy of Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH

Chinesischer Turm picture courtesy of Andrew Cowin
Augustiner Brewery picture courtesy of Rainer Kiedrowski


Art Appreciation in Auvers sur Oise

We all know that France and, in particular, the area outside Paris are full of sights related to famous painters. I want to tell you about an experience I had that really opened the world of art to me. First, you need to know that I am not an art or museum person. I am not the one spending hours and hours in every museum in town but this experience made be rethink art and museums.

A few years back I had the opportunity to visit France with the French Government Tourist Bureau. Part of the trip included the most exciting and enlightening 2 days of art appreciation I have ever experienced. The first part was a trip to a sleepy little village about 15 miles northwest of Paris, Auvers sur Oise. Auvers sur Oise is a French village that was popular with many 19th century artists including Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh spent his last 70 days in Auvers and, in fact, during this short time painted 70 paintings of Auvers and the surroundings.

We started our tour of the village at the Auberge Ravoux or House of Van Gogh. This is where Van Gogh stayed while in Auvers and is also where he died from a self inflicted gun shot wound. You are able to view the room where he died, room 5, but my favorite part of this visit was seeing the short film on Van Gogh. After seeing the film about his life and depression I felt as if I had a little vision into his mind and could see why his paintings are so dark and skewed. His paintings are a true reflection of what he was feeling and what was in his mind.

Restaurant Auvers sur Oise

After touring the House of Van Gogh and seeing the film we went to Dr. Gachet’s house. Dr. Gachet was an art lover and Van Gogh’s doctor while in Auvers. Van Gogh spent a fair amount of time painting the grounds of Dr. Gachet’s home. I vividly remember seeing the gardens and a copy of Van Gogh’s interpretation on a stand next to it. It was amazing to be able to alternate between seeing the actual subject and the painting at the same time!

Walking up to the cemetery where Van Gogh and his brother are buried we passed the Romanesque/Gothic church that was the subject of another of Van Gogh’s pieces. Here also is another opportunity to view the subject and the interpretation. Later, we had a wonderful lunch at Le Cordeville restaurant, which is a place Van Gogh frequented while in Auvers sur Oise.

Van Gogh Gravesites

The next day we visited the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Even if you do not spend time viewing the art, you should visit this museum for the architecture alone! I digress, during our visit to the museum I enjoyed viewing the Impressionist art collection including artists like Monte, Manet, Cezanne and Van Gogh. Again I was really mesmerized by Van Gogh’s art, in part, due to the insight I had gained in Auvers. While viewing Van Gogh’s pieces I could feel his despair.

So, as a non-art lover I highly recommend a visit to Auvers and then the Musee d’Orsay. Visiting these two locations was very exciting and informative for me. I had never experienced art come to life but it did due to the insight I gained in Auvers sur Oise about Van Gogh. I really didn’t (still don’t) know very much about Van Gogh’s art but after visiting Auvers I am a fan!

Do you have any “art appreciation” stories??

Welcome to European Travelista. . .

. . . the blog for you if you love traveling to Europe! I am excited to launch this site with this first blog to tell you a little about me and what will be coming.

I was bitten by the travel bug after my first trip to Europe way back in 1982. I was 23 and set off on my own for my first ever adventure outside the USA. My mother must have been dying inside but to her credit she never discouraged me or told me how afraid for me she must have been.

Enjoying a beer in Englisher Garten's Munich

During my 3 weeks touring Germany, Paris and England I learned that I could get around in a country where English is not the language and I do not speak theirs! I ate, rode trains, got to the airport, didn’t get lost, could live within my means, learned to pack light and encountered some amazing people along the way. I also learned that the world, even back then, was a very small place as I ran into people who knew people I knew while waiting for the video to start at Dachau! This was my first trip and they have not stopped since.

This trip also introduced me to Europe and the love affair has stayed with me to do this day. Plain and simple, I love Europe! I am captivated by everything there is: history, art, architecture, people, the transportation, food, traditions, nature, art, culture, drinks and the stunning scenery. Everything is an education! I love talking about it, planning trips to visit and learning about new areas, cities, villages, sights to see, and more. I get an excited feeling all over when I see pictures of Europe. Maybe I’m a European at heart. . .
My goal for this blog is to share with you my experiences and learn about yours. I realize we all have a different way to travel but I believe we all share the same goal. That is to travel and we can learn from others even if we want to camp or prefer staying in luxury hotels. I will share my tips, knowledge of hotels, adventures I’ve taken, interesting facts I learn and adventures I want to take. I hope you will share your comments with us all. There is so much to learn and if everyone contributes we will all be richer for it.

Thank you again for stopping by. I hope to see you often as this journey takes off . . .

On the steps of Hohenschwangau