This post was written early January but somehow didn’t get published! It started by saying that I was earlier this year than I was last year in wishing you all the best for the coming but I was sad to say that my ideas of writing more blog posts have not come to fruition! I do have more spare time than before but it is mostly spent on welcoming family and home exchange friends, gardening, going on holidays, cycling and making the most of our yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau!
Our first trip of the year, in late March, was to Sicily which had been on my list for a long time. We rented a car and drove around the island, but I have to admit we were disappointed. On the whole we found the country very dirty and dilapidated and not particularly welcoming. We did have one wonderful evening though watching the sun set over the salt marshes near Marsala with good friends from my Fontenay days who just happened to be there at the same time.
We then stayed at home in Blois until the end of June, getting in as much cycling as we could in preparation of our summer holiday. Jean Michel built a beautiful stone retaining wall in the back garden where we dine al fresco as often as we can during the fine weather to make up for all those indoor winter months. Gardening has become one of my great pleasures but we have clay soil and a large slope at the back to give us that extra challenge. I retired on 30th June from my main translation work but am still doing 10 to 12 hours a week of certified translations.
We began home-exchanging again this year after a break of two or three years. I was able to arrange a one-week exchange in the outskirts of Copenhagen through www.homeexchange.com quite easily. In mid-July we left for Denmark by car with our e-bikes behind us via Belgium with a first stop at Namur along the Meuse. It was the first time we’d cycled in Belgium. Our spirits were a little dampened by the awful weather but we managed to cycle every day and one of the highlights was Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Saxe with all its saxophones from different countries. The cycling paths in Belgium are of uneven quality and are often conspicuously absent.
We then headed for Germany, visiting Aix-la-Chapelle, Münster and Lübeck. Even the north of Germany, with its industrial reputation, has lots of pretty villages and towns and the entire country is truly a cyclist’s paradise. Wismar, for example, is a world heritage site on the Baltic Coast from which we cycled to the neighbouring island of Poel joined to the mainland by a levee where I had the best meal since we left France in a little restaurant next to a marina – a seafood platter with scallops, calamari rings and shrimp, all very fresh. We went to the tip of the island where people were swimming in the Baltic but we didn’t join them even though the outside temperature was a good 22 degrees
After a final stop in the north of Germany, during which we visited Lübeck and Schwerin Castle, inspired by our own château de Chambord but built much later, between 1847 and 1857 by Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, we headed for Copenhagen. Because we had not thought to book ahead, we were not able to take the ferry so went the long way adding an extra 200 km to our journey, 500 km in all, via the 18 k_long Storebaelt bridge with its 33 euro toll.
We were very happy with our home exchange despite the small bedrooms, but the living area downstairs was very spacious and we had a large garden and an enclosed winter garden. Our first day in Copenhagen was somewhat marred by the overcast sky and three short downpours but it was easy to cycle the 13 km from Bagsværd to the centre of the city as the bike paths are excellent, although a little busy and frightening at times. I counted 35 bikes waiting for a green light. We managed to photograph the Little Mermaid without too many tourists.
All in all, I have to say that Copenhagen and Denmark were disappointing. We did not find the architecture very attractive and the countryside, with a few notable exceptions, was flat and uninteresting. It was also generally unsuitable for cycling apart from Copenhagen itself. We did enjoy our ride up the coast to Helsingor, site of the Elsinor Castle of Hamlet fame, and Frederisksborg Castle was quite stunning.
On the way, we went through a couple of little villages with quaint thatched cottages.
One of the policies in Denmark is to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones rather than retore them. The town of Aarhus in Jutland houses an open-air museum called Den Gamle By (the old town) started by a teacher and translator, Peter Holm, in 1914, to save the mayor’s 16th century house (second photo) from demolition. Today there are 75 buildings from 20 towns, many furnished and often illustrating traditional services and trades. Not far away, in central Jutland, is my favourite modern building in Denmark – the Wave.
We decided to spend the next ten days in Germany, which is one of our favourite countries for cycling, visiting the Lake District, the spa town of Bad Bevensen where we treated ourselves to whirlpools every day, the Harz district with its stunning wooden churches, Marburg and Lahntal before returning to Blois via Sedan and Charleville Mézières where we cycled for an hour and a half in pouring rain!
We came back to the hottest summer on record although we had escaped the worst of it. Our poor Danish home exchangers were not as lucky! We weren’t even allowed to use our well water so our lovely green grass slowly turned a sad brown. Since then, I have studied up on all the flowering shrubs that don’t need much water and am planting lots of them in the spring so that, if we have another hot summer, we will still have flowers. We had a bumper tomato crop though!
And after the sun came the rain. After a few days cycling in Brittany late September we weren’t able to cycle very much. But the grass turned green again ….
The new rental studio apartment in the historical quarter of Blois, Châtel Rose, got off to a good start and was occupied for several months by an Australian retiree who wanted to live the French life and improve her language skills. I think she had found more friends than I have in five years by the end of her stay!!! Our aim is to give holiday makers a near-perfect experience, offering top-level services and an in-depth French experience.
This coming year we are buying a yearly pass to Château de Chaumont ncluding its wonderful garden festival. The permanent garden is already a great inspiration to me and the interior of the castle is richly furnished.
Our next travel project is Crete in March where we will be using our home exchange “guest points” to stay in Chania and Agios Nicolaos.
Thank you for remaining faithful despite my infrequent posting. I would like to wish you all a very happy new year – health, happiness and optimism!