Thursday, April 30, 2009

Loire Valley + Paris, France

I recently had the opportunity to go to the Loire Valley in France. It was a quick trip, but I spent my time in a little town called Blois just east of Tours, about two and a half hours southwest of Paris. The town is situated on La Loire river and has a very hilly terrain and a quaint little town center with historic chateaus and cathedrals. The next day I had to catch the Eurostar from Gare du Nord in Paris back to London in the evening, so I spent the day roaming about the beautiful city and snapping photos. A nice little excursion outside of London!


Blois in the Loire Valley:

Lovely Paris:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cote d'Azur, France

I had the opportunity to make a trip to the beautiful Cote d’Azur and took these photos during some downtime. My overall impression was that southern France is much more laid back than the northern regions of France and it reminds me a lot of California, both the climate and the people. It is well worth having a car because there are so many fantastic drives and gems that you might otherwise miss if you stay only in the main cities. I spent a lot of time roaming around the beaches along the Promenade de Anglais and Vieux Port in Nice, enjoying the local wine and Provencal cuisine.

The second day was spent in Cannes, home to the Cannes Film Festival, beautiful models and famous celebrities and their yachts. Both cities are ridiculously expensive, so be sure to budget accordingly if you plan to come (€10 to €12 for a Kronenbourg 1664 beer).

If you have the time, rent a car and take the drive along the A8 to Marseilles which takes approximately two and a half hours. The scenery is amazing and reminded me of Napa and Sonoma counties back home in California because of the green hills and vineyards that you pass along the way.

The drive along the D1098 along the southern coast between Cannes and St. Raphael is breathtaking as well and is more reminiscent of Highway 1 along the California coast. On this drive you get amazing views of the snowcapped French Alps, steep cliffs dropping into the Mediterranean and green forests jutting from mountaintops.

This is a region that is well worth another visit.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Brighton, U.K.

Brighton. Once again, another fantastic day trip outside of London. If you're looking to get to the coast, but can't get out to Cinque Terra or the Cote d'Azur, then Brighton isn't a bad option on a nice sunny English day.

The idea came about because a friend's brother was in Paris on business from Sao Paulo and visiting for a long weekend in London. On Friday night we went to a great bar in London Bridge called Shunt. The bar is literally in a dungeon under London Bridge, very gothic and dark, but the crowd is normal. It is fitted out with move screens, live action play performances, and a retro skating rink. Something to be seen if you're in town for the weekend. I had never been to a bar quite like that anywhere in the world. We had a great evening and decided that Sunday would be best spent for an excursion outside of London due to how great the weather forecast was. (On a side note, the weather in London has been amazing for most of 2009, aside from that blizzard we had in January of course...)

Brighton is a little over one hour south of London via the faster train from Victoria Station. Once you reach Brighton station, walk all the way down Queen's Road for about ten minutes until you hit the sea. You really can't miss it. Brighton Pier will be off to your left and is probably one of the tackiest things I have seen since being in the UK. It is essentially a carnival on a pier with cheap rides, arcades and food stands. However, it is worth spending a little time on the pier for the best doughnuts you will ever have in your life (if you take my advice and try these things and still do not agree, the doughnuts are on me). You get one dozen for five quid and they come out piping hot, dumped in sugar and thrown in a bag. They might take some days off of your life in the end, but so good. Follow this at the "Japanese Noodle" stand which serves up pan fried noodles with prawns and bacon for 2.50 and you're ready to go about your day.

The main site to see is the Royal Pavilion, built by the famous early 19th century architect John Nash (not the economist) and was King Georg IV's summer palace. The whimsical design and layout reflects George IV's notorious eccentricity. The structure is a hodgepodge of Mughal, Chinese, and Brutalist styles. Definitely worth a few snapshots, but we didn't go inside for a proper tour.

The Lanes are also quite nice, very narrow streets that once made up the fisherman's village, but now filled with great shops and restaurants. Stop for a pint or a cup of coffee.

We spent most of our day at a great little lounge on the boardwalk where we met some very friendly Spaniards who have made Brighton their home due to their teaching professions. Brighton isn't a place where you run around trying to fit in all of the sites. In fact, if you go, and if the weather is brilliant the way it was that day, it is best spent with some friends on the beach, good conversation, and a few pints of beer.

Cheers, Keenan