Ile de Ré: Re-visited

It is always fun to discover new places during your travels, but it is also great to return to the ones you have learned to love. Certainly for us, Ile de Re is one of those places. Last year, we wanted to drive along the Normandie coast and see new places. We visited Mont St. Michel and stopped at a few other coastal towns. Later, we decided to stop in Ile de Re and we ended up finding a great room in St. Martin. This is Martin's first visit to Europe and we knew he'd enjoy it here since we had told him about it, and had sent him photos from our visit the previous year.
Isle de Re is a very small island and you can get to it via bridge. It is only 30 kilometers long and  5 kilometers wide. For more information, visit their official web site.click here Ile de Ré We were pleased to see that their web site, borrowed from our blog one of the photos that we took and posted last year. This petite island is known for its holly hocks, which grow all along streets and alleys and seem to sprout out of nowhere. It is also known for its oyster farms and of course, its beaches and other beautiful sights. It's a very bike-friendly island and everywhere you look there are folks enjoying the day riding their bikes. 

We felt very lucky that we were able to get a room at click here La Jetée, which is a small but beautiful hotel right in front of the harbor. The rooms are airy and
pleasantly decorated and there is a fabulous court yard in the middle of it. Perhaps because we were there just before their high season, but we found the rates reasonable considering the location. The views of the port from our window alone are worth the price.

Look at  the elegant simplicity of the houses with their traditional French shutters.

We walked around St. Martin, but also made time to visit a few beaches and other parts of the island.  And even though we did not come here to shop, but to enjoy, we actually ended up finding a few items to add to our collection. (will post about our finds and share photos in our next posting) Martin was ecstatic to find out that he has his own pub in the Island.

Here's to you in gratitude for following our trek and our blog

Team Atelier

Next posting: "Treasures Found Along the Way..."


En Route to the South...Boulogne Sur Mer

One of the things that makes the long drive from Belgium to the South of France fun is the pit stops we make along the way.  Last year we stopped in Mont St. Michel and then in Ile de Re. There is a blog entry from last year's visit to Ile de Re which includes beautiful photos of hollyhocks. click here Ile de rê There is so much beauty along the road that it's impossible not to stop and enjoy some of the sights. Whether you drive via the interior and stop in Paris, or if you drive along the coast, there is much to see and do. I prefer the coast because there are always great places to enjoy good seafood and of course amazing sights.

Yesterday was a bitter-sweet day for us because we had to say good-bye to Johan's comfy and airy cottage just when the weather got better.  It would have been nice to hang out outside and have a pic-nic or barbecue. That was the bitter part, but the sweet part is that we began our trek to the south. We got a late start because we had to make sure the van was in good shape to take us all the way down. You have to make sure the air conditioning is working! :)

Along the way we stopped to see England from the hills. All those rolling hills bathed in vibrant green grass just make you dizzy with their beauty. We admired many quaint villages and towns along the way and delighted our lungs with the clean ocean air. I so relish these moments when you have the chance to just admire beauty, both natural and created, and feel grateful to be alive.

We were trying to decide where to spend our first night and knew we would be stopping in Boulogne Sur Mer, so we decided we should stay there since it was almost dinner time. Yes, we don't make reservations ahead of time, we just take a chance.  We normally find a place to stay, but when we don't we just sleep in the van.  It is roomy, and we always take some mattresses so we can sleep comfortably. 

Boulonge Sur Mer is a gem, or perhaps I should say a pearl, since it is "by the sea." The original city is surrounded by a tall wall, as it was customary in medieval times as a way of protection from enemies. It is situated along the Côte d'Opale in Northern France and has many unique features. Click here Boulogne sur Mer

I love the entryway into the city.  It makes you feel like you are being allowed into a private society, a special place.

One of the first things you admire about Boulogne even before you enter the walled city is its beautiful cathedral. The dome just juts out above the walls majestically.  No matter how many times I visit this city, I always take pictures of the cathedral and they always look great!  It's fun to take a stroll along the wall of the ciy and find the many entryways. The city streets with cobblestones are clean and beautiful and there are many shops and cafes along the way.  In the center of the city, there is a community garden that is like a gallery, for it changes in design every so often and they usually feature things to do with the local agronomy and traditions.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner, some good wine and after walking along the wall again for a while, we retired for the evening.  This morning I type this as I sip my coffee at our hotel and prepare to meet Melissa and Bob who stayed in a camping in their RV.  Off on our voyage to the south! On the way to Normandie.



Waterloo Flea Market & Visit to Brussels

Even though Johan warned us not to have expectations about the Waterloo flea market on Sunday, we were excited about a new adventure.  We got up around 3:15 a.m. and got on our way since it does take close to two hours to get there. Johan had not been there in a while and we took the wrong exit, but we managed to get there fine. 

Well, we did find a few things that we liked but it is not a flea market we would recommend. After the flea market, we went to Le Butte du Lion, which is the monument that was built to commemorate the historic Battle of Waterloo where Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated.  Bob and Martin were courageous enough to climb up the stairs, while Melissa, Johan and I watched them climbing while we sipped on a cup of coffee.  I had slept so little the night before that I took a little catnap in the cafe.


After that we made a short visit to Brussels.  We went to the Atomium, which like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, was built during a World Expo. It is quite the sight and we would have taken the trip upstairs but the lines to enter were huge so we decided to visit other sites. 

We went to the Royal Palace and the park that is in front of it and then walked down to the Grand Place, took some photos and had some lunch and beer. It was a short but enjoyable visit and we decided next time we would come for a full day and spend the night.

Enjoy the photos.


(Next posting: En Route to the South of France)



A Field Day in a Dutch Farm...

A couple of years ago, at one of the fairs where we sell, I was walking around when I noticed a booth of European antiques. I was greeted by a beautiful, pleasant, and very tall woman named Marina. I complimented her merchandise and shared with her that we also sold European brocante and we chatted a bit. I invited her to visit our booth later if she had a chance.  She came by later, was very effusive in her appreciation of our merchandise and we chatted some more. It was great to discover
that both our merchandise and our personalities complemented each other.

I continued to see Marina and her sisters at this particular event and then last May, we ran into each other while we were both selling at Chateau Sonoma's annual "French Flea Market."  There we discovered that we have a friend in common in Belgium and that she had in fact  visited our warehouse which we share with our friend Steve, whom she knows. Well, when I told her we'd be in Europe this summer, and that it would include a trip through parts of Holland, she suggested we go by her uncle's farm which is also a brocante. Then we ran into Marina at the fair in Maroilles in France and she again reminded us to stop by her uncle's farm on the way back from Amsterdam. We decided to follow her advice and took a little detour along the road on our way to Oosterhout.

On the way to the farm, there is a canal that is beautifully covered with water lilies that conjures up images of Monet's garden. We decided to stop and take a few photos. "I could get used to living here!" I exclaimed.  It is breath-taking, and the air smells so clean and fresh.  Everywhere you look there are pastures with beautiful cows grazing, and fields of corn, potatoes, wheat, and other crops.  There were people riding bicycles and just taking a walk along the bank of the canal. It seemed so idyllic!

Not too far from where we stopped to admire the water lilies, our navigator told us to turn right and we saw a simple hand painted sign that said "brocante."  We turned and discovered this rustic and beautiful farm in the most bucolic setting.  Everywhere you turned and photographed could become a postcard. The colors were vibrant and the smell of the soil after the fresh rain was delicious. 

 Arriving at the farm, we were greeted by Marina's aunt and step sister.  They were both very pleasant and welcoming and as soon as I mentioned we were sent by Marina, her aunt mentioned our names.  "Marina told me you might be coming!" The other three members of that welcoming committee, were three beautiful black dogs named Negrita, Segundo and Bianca.

The place was beautiful and it included some buildings with traditional Dutch roofs and an array of greenhouses and out buildings that were filled with goodies of all sorts. The garden reminded me a bit of ours in Corralitos in that it sort of grows wild.  There were climbing roses and red poppies, and all sorts of flowers blooming.  There were also all sorts of plants in containers, including an assortment of succulents which I love. The containers themselves looked beautiful with moss and different hues of patinas.

As soon as we greeted our hosts, we all scattered about the place hunting for treasures.  Melissa and Bob went one way and Johan, Martin and I in our own quest.  Now and then, one of us would peek out of an attic or come out of a doorway bearing goodies in our arms.  We each made our own pile and didn't bother to ask for prices until we were ready to pack it up.  Along the way, we would stop and take some photos and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee prepared by our hosts and later sipped some cold beer as the day grew warmer.

 It was a field day in many ways and we all left happy with our purchases and glad that we met some nice folks. They gave us a traditional farewell with three kisses and invited us to come again. "Next time, you come and stay. We can make some food, drink beer and you guys can spend the night." Now, that's Dutch hospitality. Who said the Dutch were stingy?

A French Evening at Deja Vu's:

From the brocante in the farm, we drove to Oosterhout for Desiree and Paul's French Night at Deja Vu's.  What a beautiful and well-attended event!  We arrived early so you could still move about the shop and courtyard, but later, the placed filled up with friendly people. Many people were wearing interesting ecclectic clothing. There was plenty of wine, and delicious edibles and a duo of musicians who ended up inviting us to sing in Spanish.  Well, Martin and I just had to oblige!  

The queue to pay for purchases was long so we know Desiree had a nice evening not just because so many people came but they were also buying.  And who blames them? Desiree has a beautiful shop replete with gorgeous items and great ambiance, especially on her French Evening. 

Martin and I retired early for the evening, but Johan hung out with the other folks until 1 a.m.  We all stayed at Desiree and Paul's house which is a beautiful, romantic place and had a tasty breakfast of croissants, cheeses, hams, fruit , and many other goodies before we left for Johan's place in Belgium. 
Not a bad way to celebrate your BIG 50! Thank you Desiree and Paul for being such gracious hosts both at the party and at your lovely home!