Villandry and Gardens to be Jealous of…

Hard to believe but the Chateau of Villandry was once up for demolition.  Fortunately Joachim Carvallo and his wife Ann Coleman, a Spaniard and an American, bought it in 1906.  Pretty remarkable that they took this on but take it on they did.  They refurbished the buildings and uncovered and brought back to life the gardens.  And what an amazing place it is.

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So of course it was a must on our list.  It was well worth the trip.  They have acres of formal gardens, both vegetable and flowers.  I can’t lie, I’m envious of how well their veg patch is doing given theirs seems to be surviving without rabbit damage.  Unlike ours!

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The formal part of the garden “spells” out tender love, passionate love, fickle love, and tragic love.

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I do wonder how the family, who still lives there, find ways to enjoy the gardens.  I would find it difficult to have to stay out of sight until the masses have left.  But it would be a wonderful place to stroll with a glass of wine.  There are lovely spots to find whether it be the stone watchdog or the graceful swan swimming by.

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But my favourite spot was the sun garden.  I much prefer the gardens that follow the English cottage garden, rather than formal, straight, and narrow gardens.  Letting the flowers and plants do what they are meant to do naturally.

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One thing I really enjoyed while in France was the wonderful food you can get at the tourist stops.  At Villandry they had a restaurant that used the veg from the kitchen gardens.  I had a smoked duck fillet salad with roasted pine nuts and a violet vinaigrette for a dressing.

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It was delicious.  It was such a great day with the kids.  We created so many good memories on this trip that will last a lifetime.

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A Getaway to Washington DC

I can’t seem to shake the pattern of being behind the 8 ball lately.  I have been set back by a bad back, tying up loose ends with the tax season,  and the usual every day things.  We did manage a break with a long weekend getaway to Washington DC, just the two of us.  Despite the scorching heat we had a fabulous time.  A few hiccups here and there but hey that’s traveling.

The beginning of the trip sent home to me that I should listen to my intuition.  We landed at Dulles with several areas to eat. I overrode my instinct to eat there.  Bad move.  Our first stop was the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center which is the Air and Space Annex for the Smithsonian.  All they had for food was McDonalds.  And the food was bad.  We didn’t even finish.  And we had to contend with a woman who was jumping the queue which is not a good idea when I’m hungry!  I pushed back!  The poor cashier had a deer in the headlights look.  She kept yelling over me to go ahead and order while ordering her coffee.  Very strange.  I said to the cashier that at least he has a story to tell now.

The museum itself was amazing.  The amount of aircraft and engines they had was incredible.  I would not like to be the one who had to figure out the puzzle of fitting it all together.

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For me the coolest thing was the Discovery.  When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut.  Aside from wearing glasses and having asthma I get sick on swings so that dream died a quick death!

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They even had a Hurricane there.  This plane was critical in the Battle of Britain, particularly how Britain had it down to quickly replace them as squadrons were destroyed.  Noon the next day replacements would arrive.  Pretty remarkable.  Behind it is the Enola Gay.

We found a hotel near the National Mall which was perfect so we could just walk about.  It was strange though, people were fabulous and very helpful and the place was very clean.  But it was trying to hard to be hip and cool.  Which seemed to attract the young party crowd.  The second night we were woken up to a drunk guy knocking on the door and calling out “Where you at?”  He passed out in front of our door.  We did get a free bottle of wine for our troubles and a new room.

The first day we wandered round the memorials.  A few we revisited such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial.  We also checked out the WWII Memorial.  While we were there they started a ceremony where vets from that war were wheeled in and honoured.  I was amazed at how many were there.  It was quite moving.  There are several organisations that bring in veterans from the wars and bring them round to the memorials.  It was tough to see at the Vietnam Memorial because they were seeing the names of their friends and family.  I was impressed with the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  It was graceful and powerful.

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As we wandered we had to have some ice cream.  Medicinal against the heat of course.  There was a beautiful duck who had the begging down to a science.  And he knew when you were done eating because he would then wander to the next table looking his cutest.  He reminded us of our dog Murphy.

There were a few more memorials before lunch.  The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial was very interesting and a lot larger than I thought it would be.  Same with the FDR Memorial, which is incredibly large.  They had outdoor rooms for each of his four terms.  The thing I enjoy about most of the memorials is the quotes.

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Too often people forget what is important.  It would be nice to think those that visit these memorials come away reminded of what should be our priorities.  I’m afraid I’m being optimistic.

The next stop was the Botanical Gardens.  It wasn’t very big like Kew Gardens and others I’ve been to but it was very enjoyable.  Aside from the varied and gorgeous orchids they had neat flowers like the banana flower which I’ve never seen before.

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Of course we searched for fabulous food!  Dinners went very well but with the exception of one breakfast the rest of the meals fell really flat.  Our mojo was letting us down!  The great breakfast I had was crab cake with poached egg and hollandaise sauce with old bay seasoning.  Fabulous flavour.  They just overcooked the eggs so the yolks weren’t runny.  Nuts.

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I did try something new which was a soft shell crab.  It was different.  Very tasty but the shells still had a bit of crunch to it.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m glad I tried it.

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My favourite was the baked oyster dish with pancetta, pecorino, garlic, and breadcrumbs.  It was served over salt and peppercorns.  It was amazing.

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I had calamari sauteed in a spicy tomato broth.  The interesting highlight was the crostini with squid ink.  I have never had squid ink so I was looking forward to this. It wasn’t a strong or fishy flavour but it made for an intriguing crostini.  Very delicious.

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One dessert was a goat cheese cheesecake with rhubarb jam and rhubarb sorbet over a ginger strudel.  Oh my.  We need to figure out how to recreate that.  The strange but good dessert was a honey panna cotta parfait with basil gelee.

Washington DC 9 2015We weren’t sure what to make of it but we liked it.  Not sure we’ll try to recreate it though.

Our waiter for two of the nights was French.  We were enjoying cocktails and wondered how to say cocktails in French.  He said cocktails!  I may be ok on our trip to France. 🙂

Sometimes First Impressions Are Wrong – Malaga

Our first port of call was Malaga.  I went to Malaga about 20 odd years ago and what I saw wasn’t inspiring.  The bus station was bleak and we drove past, on the way to Nerja, run down neighbourhoods.  I thought why on earth would people visit here?  Well it just goes to show what I know!  In researching what to see when we docked I found that I was probably seriously mistaken in my opinion so I was looking forward to the visit.  I was also looking forward to getting off the ship.  I get seasick on swings so it may seem strange to find me on a cruise.  I bought the wrist bands, a roll on thing for behind the ears, ginger candy and seasick meds.  And they had peppermint tea on the ship.  After a rough first full day I found my sea legs.  Turns out getting a hot rocks massage is not a good thing if you get seasick easily.  I found out the hard way!

We started the day at 6.20 because we were told we would pass through the strait of Gibraltar between 6.30 and 7am.  This would be before dawn but I figured the rock would have lights round it.  So off went the alarm, threw our clothes on, and dashed upstairs to find we passed it a half hour ago.  But we could see the lights of Africa which was something else.  Since we were up we decided to watch the sun come up.  It started to get light about 7.45 and it was beautiful.

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When we docked it was a beautiful day, little on the toasty side, but still lovely.  We walked to the old town and to get there we had to go through loads of gardens.  I’m a bit envious of all the blooms they were having as the garden at home was finished.

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Our first stop was the cathedral and low and behold it wasn’t raining or in scaffolding!  This has never happened to me before.   It’s either or both.  I thought that things were looking up.  🙂  It was an interesting place and I enjoyed walking round it before lunch.

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After all the walking it was time to find a place to have our lunch.  We wandered a bit looking at menus and found a small cafe just off the road.  It just had a few tables.  We each ordered a panini with Iberian ham and manchego cheese.  Simple but very delicious.  I knew we’d eat well off the boat.  It was one of the things I was looking most forward to.

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After lunch we headed over to the Alcazaba fortress.  This place was a maze of amazing gardens, rooms, pottery, and history.  It is centuries old with the Moorish influence.  The Moors built beautiful buildings so we found this quite fascinating.  And it was truly a maze of rooms and courtyards.  It took us a long time to walk round it.  We didn’t have a map so we just explored wherever we could.  I think we saw most of it.

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To end the day we saw the most amazing sunset.  There are times I am in awe of how beautiful nature can be.  I only had my iphone at this time of day so I wasn’t able to take good pictures of the 50 or 60 dolphins leaping about.  But boy were they having a grand old time.

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Malaga is one of the stops that we would go back to.  It was a great start to our exploring Spain.