Oooh Norwegians… they’re lovely, blond, tall, spend their free-time running uphill and their holidays in wood cabins, they don’t drink, don’t smoke, they have the best-managed oil fund in the world, split kids nursing between father and mother in a more balanced way than anywhere else in the world, and to sum it all…they’re even one of the happiest people in the world…right, let’s stop, this is getting frustrating.
Les Fêtes de Genève
For almost a month during the summer, the placid Geneva turns into a mix of public amusement fair and chic beach bars, becoming the scene to one of the world’s grandest fireworks display. This year’s cost chf 700,000 and was no exception (that’s £460k).. No wonder why Les Fetes de Geneve attracts up to 2m visitors each year.
A friend of ours threw a roof party on Saturday where the average guest could speak 4 languages and was holding 2 passports…I wondered if it was an extraordinary sample or …?
From the Council of Europe website I learned that “Geneva is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland (after Zurich) and is the largest in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Whilst the municipality itself (Ville de Genève) has a population of 191,415, the canton of Geneva (République et Canton de Genève, which includes the city) has 463,919 residents. (…)
The majority ethnic group, Swiss, makes up 60.83% of the canton’s inhabitants and 39.2% of Geneva’s population are non-nationals (and up to 48% in 2013 according to the Office Cantonal de la Statistique). The most significant ethnic groups are: Portuguese-7.40%;
French-5.5%; Italians-4.85% and Spanish-2.95%. Of non-EU/EFTA migrants, the largest groups are, in this order, from the USA, Russia, Brazil, Kosovo,Turkey, former Yugoslavia, India and Morocco. 44.6% of the canton’s working age population are non-nationals and 54% hold at least one foreign passport. At the end of 2010, the unemployment rate was 6% in Geneva, or twice the Swiss level”
As a reference, London’s non-UK born population was around 37% in 2011 according to the Oxford Observatory at the last census, and a large share of those actually hold a UK passport…
The pristine canton of Gruyere
And Switzerland would not be a human size chocolate-box without villages like this one: the medieval town of Gruyere, home if the infamous cheese, where we hopped by to reload the batteries.
I was born in Normandy, and many years after having left the homeland for overseas pastures, it’s easy to forget how beautiful it all is. I enjoyed re-discovering the magical Mont St Michel, and sharing the experience.
Fun facts and history
The Mont is first and foremost known for its sacred and religious aspect, and the spectacular Abbey crowning it. As history puts it, in 709 the Archangel Michael appeared to a bishop and ordered him to build a sanctuary on the Mont.
With a thousand years of history, many legends, stories and poems have been writen about the Mont. Here is one, written by my absolute favourite Normand author, Guy de Maupassant; his legend of the quarrel between the devil and St Michel, is a delight:
Saint Michael watches over Lower Normandy, Saint Michael, the radiant and victorious angel, the sword-carrier, the hero of Heaven, the victorious, the conqueror of Satan.
But this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great saint and the devil.
(read the full legend in English here).
I saw a lot of journalist and blogs getting this wrong: the Mont St Michel is in Normandy, and it’s always been. When the Archangel alledgedly appeared in 709, under Charlemagne, the Mont was already belonging to the diocese of Avranche, Normandy. And more importantly, the Abbey was consequently built by Normand Benedictine monks in 966, at the request of the Duke of Normandy, and has been run by them ever since!
A couple more for the pub quiz:
– In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modeled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.
– Repeatedly assaulted by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, the mount always resisted thanks to its state-of-the-art fortifications. The small island prospered as a pilgrimage destination until the 16th century.
– During the French revolution in 1792, when the church properties got seized, the Abbey was transformed into a prison.
– the Mont currently counts 43 inhabitants, mostly monks!
Do’s and don’ts
- The best season to travel there is surely late spring or summer, but even then, the weather can be very variable throughout the day so do dress in layers and pack a trench or waterproof rain coat.
- you’ll walk a lot and climb many stairs, that being said, it’s all on roads / path, so flats or light trainers are a safe choice
- The car park is a bit of a tourist trap and I had been well advised to avoid it, that’s how we stayed in a modest and lovely b&b where we could park (for free) and walk over to the Mont in 10min. This one next door also looked just as good, maybe more suited for longer stays.
- Remember that hotels on the Mont are expensive and don’t actually enjoy the view…
- Nothing has changed much since Victor Hugo was there either: I would still recommend to go for a nice meal on the mainland for the island is rather touristy and you might find “rotten fish in the middle of the sea” as he described.
- be aware that restaurants will close early in the evening (last order 9.30pm in most places). We stayed until sunset and pretty much had to skip dinner…
- do cross the bay, walking or on horseback…it’s recommended to do it with a guide as it can get dangerous
- do visit the Abbey, for the first time I had the chance to follow the evening path, lit for the summer…around 8/9pm is ideal as the sunset falls on the cloister…magical. Info here and there
For the foodies…
The Mont sits at the border between Brittany and Normandy and as a result you will find a lot of regional delicacies from both sides of the river.
I have previously confessed on this blog my love for cider (the sparkling alcoholic apple based beverage), and this time I even brought back home some Pommeau (aperitif based on cider and Calvados liquor). Enjoyed best with a caramel crêpe….yum
But the true local delicacy is the salt march lamb, called in French “agneau de pré-salés”. Because the area enjoys some of the strongest tides in the world, pastures sometimes get covered and soaked in sea water. The little lambs therefore graze in high salt content environment, giving the meat a distinctive (but not salty) flavour. It is a very refined dish that you may only find in high end restaurants, and normally only from end of June until Christmas.
Victor Hugo to his daughter Adele:
“J’étais hier au Mont-Saint-Michel. Ici, il faudrait entasser les superlatifs d’admiration, comme les hommes ont entassé les édifices sur les rochers et comme la nature a entassé les rochers sur les édifices. Mais j’aime mieux commencer platement par te dire, mon Adèle, que j’y ai fait un affreux déjeuner. Une vieille aubergiste bistre a trouvé moyen de me faire manger du poisson pourri au milieu de la mer. Et puis, comme on est sur la lisière de la Bretagne et de la Normandie, la malpropreté y est horrible, composée qu’elle est de la crasse normande et de la saleté bretonne qui se superposent à ce précieux point d’intersection.”
Around and away
We came from London via the ferry boat and my friend drafted the following itinerary for us with her favourite beaches and areas on the coast. Feel free to use it:
Another way to do it would be to start from Caen (accessible by train from Paris or by ferry boat) and combine your visit with the D-Day beaches and the WW2 memorial museum. For convenience I do recommend to rent a car from Caen or Cherbourg onward.
Note that FlyBe has also opened a London Southend / Caen line a few months ago.
Other resources and useful links:
Normandy Tourism website – well done and in English
Video on the Unesco website
London can be quite romantic. Those of us who have the privilege to live here sometimes forget…. a foreign friend of mine recently asked me for help organizing a romantic weekend for two…a few ideas below
My top 5 things to do on a summery weekend in London with your special someone:
# 1: Brunch, Pimm’s o’clock and al-fresco dinners – beware, British food included!
On a sunny Sunday afternoon for a jug of Pimm’s, The Dicken’s inn on St Katherine’s docks is my favourite place. It’s got a nice terrace and you could include a stopover in your stroll along the marina and the Thames hand in hand…West side of London, the Ship Inn is also a good alternative place to sip along the river, but less easy to reach by common transport.
Feeling trendier? Put on your hipster shirt and over-sized shades, go have a lunch at the boundary rooftop. Don’t be afraid, there is a little bit of queuing on sunny days to do but it’s worth it. On Sundays only, the nearby Flower Market is open until about 4pm; then carry on to Brick Lane (ladies -if you have something for vintage items, this is paradise land) you could keep on partying until late.
Another sunny afternoon “so British” option is to throw a little garden party and high tea at the castle, as you do… The Orangerie of Kensington Palace opens in the summer for a flurry of scones and clotted cream in the park. Princess Diana enjoyed it, you will too!
#2: Culture, Music and other things to do
Summer days bring plenty of music festivals, sport and cultural event with them : Wimbledon in July, British Summer Music Festival, LoveBox, Shoreditch Festivals, BBC Proms…I would recommend checking the Time Out website for the list of current event, it’s the easiest to navigate through.
The Somerset house is a spectacular 18th century building on the Thames bank, it host 51 fountains in the summer, outdoor cinema session, a gorgeous art gallery with a large impressionism private collection (The Courtauld Gallerie)
Another nice outdoor cinema session would be the rooftop at the Queen of Hoxton
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre , stand up tickets are cheap and even the seated one are not quite comfortable but you will get a top quality performance in the exact replica of the original theatre which is frankly unique. You can bring your own nibbles or finish with diner at the Swan next door with a stunning view on the Millenium bridge and St Paul’s (ask for a window table)
#3: markets and parks
London has more green space than any other capital, let’s enjoy it!
The Kew Gardens are the Royal Botanic Gardens; no, England is not only the home of perfectly mown green lawn!
tip from a reader (thanks!): go to the Kew garden by ferry boat,starting from Westminster peer, it takes about 1h -ish, depending on the tide. A must on a sunny day
Explore the summer roundhouse beach in Camden. It’s the closest thing to a city beach. You could also hop on a train and go kite surfing in Camber Sands or strolling on the Brigton peer but that’s off topic.
#4: do stuff together will bring you closer…they say
Go doing things together, go running and enjoy London – proven that it’ll make your couple last longer. Why not try?
Go jogging: any park is good, try and finish with the run by Parliament hill or Primrose (easier) for a nice view, cross Waterloo bridge; or my absolute favourite, finish your run with a coffee at the Towpath or at the Pavilion café.
For non runners, you could also take Barclays bikes or get on a boat on the canal and finish with a walk in Camden.
Swimming outdoor in lidos: London fields lido has the advantage of being in a park where barbecues are authorised and next to the lovely Broadway market. Tooting bec is a second lovely option but a bit further.
More ideas? why don’t you discover London’s monuments or night life through a lens and participate in a photo walking course? there are plenty on sales on Groupon or Time Out generally. For sports fan, London is a great place to enjoy cricket, rugby and football matches
#5: the WOW factor
We had a discussion with friends about good first date places for Londoners, and those places definitely don’t make it to our top-first-date list; but if you’re a tourist, are planning to propose, or for a splash it out factor, you could book a capsule in the London Eye (This advice shouldn’t apply to Londoners in any circumstance, please), or a table at the vertigo, or sushi samba if you’ve been planning your trip for a good 3 month in advance (or you could just show up at the bar without booking, just avoid Friday / Saturday night crowds).
For other good views of the city you could check out the recently open Oblix at the Shard, I haven’t tasted it yet but was told the food is decent.
Finally? Go party! put those sky-high heels and mini skirt to use and head out to the Kensington Roof Garden; don’t be surprised, clubs in London close at 3am but I would recommend going a bit earlier that what you may be used to (aim for 1030pm / 11pm). Enjoy.
something to (re-)read before leaving? Harry Potter, yes it’s modern pop culture, and it really puts me in the mood for exploring the “secret” London (I’m still looking for Diagon alley, I’ll let you know when I get there)
a film to watch before leaving? yes, in the context of that post, it has to be Notting Hill, but no, that doesn’t give you a free pass to make silly pictures at my tube stop in the evening (just joking…or maybe not)
in your headphones? it’s a romantic post so I’m going to say Adele, but also The Beatles and Ed Sheeran (cauz he’s got cute freckles). Britain’s pop music is the best, not to be confused with Britain’s cuisine.
all of the above on a map:
More resources: with those 3, you should have it covered
How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?
Charles de Gaulle
France’s landscape is truly diverse. Not all glamorous but it sometimes feels nice as well to just immerse oneself into the deep countryside, enjoy hiking volcanoes, canoeing in stunning rivers and …. eating a lot of cheese!
Day dreaming on a Monday morning is nothing unusual but today particularly…just back from a perfect-issimo romantic weekend around the Garda lake.
It started with a perfect kite surf session on the Garda lake; the refreshing mountain water was very welcome as city temperatures reached 37+! check out the kite schools and offers there, beginners should hire the full equipment and take lessons but more advanced and independent surfers can just get a “lift” with one of the school to access the kite zone.
A friend also recommended staying at the Reamol Hotel, which I may try next time but it seems quite demanded in high season. As I always have a special endearment toward agriturismo places in Italy (basically B&B lofted in olive fields or vineyards), I opted for the
Borgo di Calmasino held by a lovely Italian family, an oasis nested in the middle of vineyards.
The day carried on with a perfect sunset and aperitivo on the beach, and al fresco sea-food based dinner at Giuly, where they didn’t have oysters forks (yes i’m picky) but they did let us drive safely home and finish our lovely bottle of wine at home – thanks folks.
Verona was truly hot and sweaty but the picturesque city made up for it. As opposed to the tourist-packed Venice, the crowd is kind of flocked around Juliet’s breast under the balcony and therefore relatively easily avoided. We met up with local friends for a gelato on Piazza San Zeno, on of the city’s saint, facing the Basilicata, in which crypt, according to the legend,
Romeo and Juliet were married (!!). We stayed a throw-stone away, at charming (and AC’ed, thanks god!) B&B San Zenetto (they also take bookings on airbnb). So I slipped on my 2-inches red soles (try that in 37 degrees, balancing on cobblestones…) and off we headed to the open-air roman arena. Even after having done my due-diligence, read the history of the arena, reviews, the full libretto of the very bloody Il Trovatore (well done me as there’s no subtitles)… it IS a mind blowing, and mmm, yes : pitch-perfect evening…(did I say that already?)
The weekend schedule has been a bit reviewed due to the Nemo-snow storm; but it does make some room for a girly nail painting afternoon, sipping coffee and eating magnolia bakery peanut butter cookies indoor and lamenting on Carrie B’s conundrum (dateable men in NYC are either taken or gay for those who’re not familiar).
On Friday, no cab were running, except for the snow ploughs, shame as I really wanted to go to Brooklyn and check out on the surf bar…but it will be for next time!
The alternative plan wasn’t actually bad at all as we sought comfort at the Spotted Pig, the most adorable snow shelter one can think of, and chatted around a cocktail and a burger. I know it’s not a hidden gem, it’s #24 on the zagat, but yet, I loved the gastro-pub ambiance, the snowed christmas trees outside and the decorative little pig-lamps!
Two other gems worth mentioning, still in the same area as we stayed in the West village most of the time:
please don’t look at the website of the Piccola cuccina restaurant before you go as it’s kindda ruining it all: it’s great authentic food (very rare in NYC), and above all the owner has a cracking Sicilian accent; don’t expect a stylish place, go with Italian friends who talk loudly, it’s more fun.
in a typical NY style, café Cluny is a nice little place, but French by name only. That being said the “French” toast with maple syrup makes a great brunch!
until next time,
I love new york, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because i belong to it.- Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Shard might be almost empty, but one has to admit the view from there is rather stunning. If you don’t fancy paying the £25 to get to the top, here is a good teaser.