The Biggest Medieval Festival in France is a hit once again

Encampments outside the ramparts at Les Médiévales de Provins

My boys and I used to make the annual Fête Médiévale de Provins whenever possible, but–with my children grown–it had been some years since I’d been. When David and I decided to move back to Paris for the year, I looked up the festival, put it on my calendar and signed up for the festival email list. Then, I packed the “Guinevere” dress I bought some years back just for the occasion and crossed my fingers that we’d work the Provins fête into our schedule. Despite early summer heat and the possibility of storms (that didn’t materialize) we made it out to the picturesque walled town this past Sunday for the 38th annual festival. Les Médiévales de Provins was packed with visitors, entertainers, vendors, craftsmen and more, lots of whom sported elaborate medieval (or fantastical quasi-medieval) costumes in a perfect setting. What fun! read more

Versailles: Beyond the château and gardens

La Galerie des Sculptures et des Moulages (The Gallery of Sculptures and Casts). It’s hard to believe the spectacular venue was a stable and arena for horses!

[I’m still committed to blogging our three-weeks in New Zealand (Fall 2022), but decided that I wouldn’t let that stop me from posting about our current year in Paris when the mood hits me.]

The town of Versailles is an easy Métro/RER ride from our apartment and we love heading out there just to wander the extensive château gardens, especially on days when the château is closed so that the crowds are thinned. Recently, though, we headed to Versailles on a Sunday to the Galerie des Carrosses (Gallery of Carriages), a place I’d been wanting to visit, but that is only open on weekends. Housed in former royal stables known as La Grande Ecurie, the Grande Ecurie along with nearby La Petite Ecurie were built for Louis XIV between 1679-1682. Located just across from the main entrance to the palace of Versailles, they comprised the largest, most extravagant stables ever built. Since the Galerie des Carrosses is only open on weekends, we got a chance to check out the masses of tourists at the château across the way. Wow. And no thank you. I’ve visited the château many times over the years so feel lucky not to have to brave a mob like that. Still, it is one of the top tourist sites in the world and absolutely worth a visit, even in a crowd. But, back to Versailles beyond the château : read more

Christchurch

Christchurch Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum

The George Hotel in Christchurch felt sophisticated and luxurious after our pretty but simple motel in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. I’d found The George online when looking for somewhere to use two Hyatt free night certificates we needed to use. Although not a Hyatt, The George partners with Hyatt and free night certificates are usable there for some dates and categories.* A lovely spacious room with huge bathroom, a seating area and a balcony overlooking green trees confirmed I’d made a good choice. Hagley Park North sits just across the street from The George and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and city center are a short walk away. read more

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

View from our patio at Aoraki Court Motel

A close second to Milford Sound, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park was high on my list of places to visit in New Zealand. After our overnight in Wanaka, we were off to this highlight. The road took us through Lindis Pass and yet more desolate mountains, uniformly tan and dotted with clumps of spiky brush. We stopped at a scenic overlook describing an early release of the Scottish red stags that have so thrived in New Zealand. We drove a short stretch across the Ahuriri River before crossing that river to turn north then along Lake Pukaki, now with wide dry fields where Google Maps showed a much wider lake. As with many places we’ve traveled, climate change was making itself known here. read more

Wanaka and Albert Town, New Zealand

Iconic view from Wanaka waterfront #thatwanakatree

The 4.5-hour drive between Milford Sound and Wanaka required a big southward dip before turning north to take us along Lake Wakatipu almost back to Queenstown. From there, we left the green and blue of the water’s edge to cross the barren landscape of desert tan and scrub brush of the Crown Range.

Albert Town/Wanaka was primarily a layover between Milford Sound and Mount Cook/ Aoraki National Park. When I’d planned this trip, I thought we might be in need of a washing machine at this point in our travels so had prioritized that. The Albert Town AirBnB turned out to be much more than that: lovely, quiet, very comfortable, budget-friendly and a short drive to Lake Wanaka and downtown. Our host hobbled out to greet us with a truly harrowing story of a hang-gliding accident six months before from which he was only just recovered enough to walk, albeit gingerly. Hang-gliding was already off my list, but this confirmed my choice. Our host had done hundreds of flights before his accident, but when I asked him if he’d fly again, he gave a firm no. read more

Milford Sound, a New Zealand treasure

Postcard perfect: Mitre Peak reflected in Milford Sound

My number one must-see in New Zealand was Milford Sound. This time our pandemic-induced rescheduling worked to our advantage. When I’d first planned this trip in March 2020, the Milford Sound Road (a world-famous drive I definitely wanted to make) was severely damaged and closed. We could still fly in, maybe, but that wasn’t what I envisioned and gave us little wiggle room if the weather in this rainiest of rainy places didn’t cooperate. Now, in October 2022, the road was open and we had a two-day window to hopefully see the Sound on a reasonably clear day. read more

Queenstown and we begin our time on New Zealand’s South Island

Lake Wakatipu from the Harbor View Walk, Queenstown

Our flight on New Zealand air from Auckland to Queenstown went off without a hitch and offered us some great views of the two islands en route. We picked up the rent car that would be our transportation for the next weeks (sadly, now substantially more expensive than a similar car had been pre-pandemic) and headed to our hotel. The route we followed on the South Island was as follows:

Our roadtrip through New Zealand’s South Island. At Picton, we took the ferry and continued
back to Auckland via Wellington and Rotorua, a total trip of more than 2000 miles.

We took our rent car on the ferry from to Wellington and continued driving across the North Island and back to Auckland from where we’d fly back to the States. We were really happy with our itinerary and I’ll cover the entire trip including fjords, hot spring spas, wineries, geysers, Maori settlements, a glowworm cave and more in coming posts. read more

Auckland

Early morning arrival in Auckland by ship

Arriving by ship is a great introduction to Auckland. We sailed through outlying islands to dock early in the morning at the cruise ship terminal, in walking distance of downtown. Since we were disembarking and had luggage, we hailed a cab for the short ride to our hotel. With lots of free night certificates to use on this three-week trip, I chose the Four Points by Sheraton for this initial two-night stay. (We’d be back in Auckland for another two nights at the end of our stay in New Zealand.) The hotel is clean, modern and convenient. Happily, our room was ready early so we settled in quickly and had the full day ahead of us. read more

Another transpacific cruise, this time to New Zealand

Majestic Princess in Papeete, Tahiti, en route to Auckland, New Zealand

I’m behind on blogging as we settle into our year back in Paris. Still, I do want to write about our time in New Zealand (which included 2000 miles of driving!) before too much time slips by. So, first here’s a quick recap of the Princess repositioning cruise that got us there:

The Covid-19 pandemic canceled a three-week trip to New Zealand we’d planned to start in March 2020, within days of New Zealand shutting down. With the pandemic mostly behind us and New Zealand again opening, we were finally making the trip. read more

Corsica, at last

Bonifacio, Corsica

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean southeast of Nice and just north of Sardinia. It’s the birthplace of Napoleon I and a place of rugged beauty with a culture all its own. I wanted to visit Corsica for decades, but despite living in Paris on-and-off for years, I never made it. The time had finally arrived!

After finishing a house-and cat-sitting gig in little Thoiry, France, we flew EasyJet from Geneva to Ajaccio, Corsica, an 1h10m non-stop flight. We picked up a rent car at the Ajaccio airport and drove two and a half hours through rocky mountains to Bonifacio at the southern tip of the island, stopping a long the way to admire views and snap photos. We had nine nights in Corsica and I’d agonized over where exactly to spend our time. With all the winding roads, driving times in Corsica can be long and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of rushing around trying to see everything and being rushed everywhere. I settled on Bonifacio as one of two places to stay because it was just so dramatically beautiful. And given how many dramatically beautiful places there are in Corsica, that’s saying a lot. Wow, was I happy with my choice of Bonifacio! read more