The lively market towns Inca and Sineu

December, 2021

The commercial town of Inca is just a ten minute drive from our “home”. It is the third main town on the island and perfect for shopping. Inca is famous for the leather industry and the many old wine cellars, now converted into restaurants. We like to go on Thursday, which is market day and enjoy the Christmas spirit, with all the flowers on the square. I have never seen so many poinsettias in one spot! After getting some local produce, we find a place on a small terrace and enjoy the Spanish ambience, while sipping a red wine, a cappuccino and a croissant for the small amount of euro 5.40!!!

Sineu is another lovely market town and also very centrally located. Once it was the most important town on the island! Many tourists, as well as locals, are flocking the streets on the Wednesday, when fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and even livestock can be purchased. Another big attraction of this rural small place is the parish church, with its massive bell tower; Iglesia Santa Maria de Sineu. Very impressive from the outside and inside!

We stroll the streets of Sineu up and down, admiring historical buildings, and discover the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception, which is nowadays a nunnery. It was built on the ruins of the former Palace, residence of the many kings of Mallorca.

Later we return to the main square, where we find an empty table in front of the church, overlooking the market. We order a drink and a small bite and they serve us very tasty local cheese and jamón. A great way to end this beautiful morning!

Climbing to the top of the Puig d’Alaró

December, 2021

Definitely a must to visit are the ruins of Castell d’Alaró. They have always been a very important reference point in Mallorcan culture. To reach the ruins we drive to the small town Alaró and continue towards restaurant Es Verger via a terrible narrow and bumpy road. It is so small that oncoming traffic can’t pass. Halfway I get a panic attack, get out of the car and start walking. My partner just loves the challenge!

It is better to leave the car in Alaró and walk the old pelgrims route (four hours two ways with an elevation of 600 meters) or go to the other side of the mountain, to Orient. In Es Verger we first drink a coffee before we start climbing. The restaurant is rustic authentic, with a big fire place and famous for the lamb shoulder cooked in a wood-fired oven. We still have to earn our lunch and it will be cheese and bread and no roasted lamb today!

We hike all the way up to 825 meters and go through one of the fortified entrances. Just a few steps higher you will find the Hostatgeria and the ‘Ermita de la Mare de Déu del Refugi’.

You will be rewarded with dramatic views over Es Pla, the Tramuntana mountains and the Orient Valley.

On our return we take a smaller but quicker trail. You have to “mind your step”!

A house and labrador sit in central Mallorca

21st of December, 2021

It is not easy to find a convenient house sit during covid times. You need to be patient and be willing to spend a lot of hours on the internet, browsing the house sitters websites. In the end we are rewarded with a great sit of nearly three weeks on the Balearic island of Mallorca. I never visited Mallorca in the past and in my imagination it was just one of those party islands, where nature is sacrificed for huge hotels and ugly apartment buildings. Images of our future house sit showed lushy gardens and panoramic views. When seeing the pictures of the two black labradors, we didn’t think twice!

We rush to the bookstore to get information about hiking trails (Rother guides) and interesting places to visit on the island and are very surprised to discover that Mallorca has many natural parks, scenic roads and historical villages.

In December Covid is still a big issue and we, as well as the landlords, have to try staying healthy! It all works out fine and we even don’t need to get tested! The house is all decorated for Christmas, the fire place works great and the doggies are adorable, so our holiday starts (and theirs too!)

We decide to take the dogs with us in the car on most of our outings. So we can stay away a bit longer during the day, while the dogs are having party time! Our first outing will be to Parc Natural Es Trenc, in the southern part of the island. Just before entering the parc, we pass Salines de Llevant. Several lagoons are nourished by the waters of the sea and later the salt is extracted and gathered into huge piles.

In between the artificial lakes and the 6 km long beach, you will find dunes with all kinds of plants, which are adapted to the salt in the soil. Once on the beach we let the dogs run free. This time of the year only a handful of visitors are present….

Our second trip goes to Cap de Formentor, in the northern part of the island. The peninsula is protected on one side by the Tramuntana Mountains and blessed with some fabulous beaches on the southern side. To reach the east of the peninsula, you have to drive a very curvy road. Don’t forget to stop at Mirador de la Creueta for some fabulous views!

Cala Formentor is our next hiking place. The turqoise sea looks inviting for a swim. Margot, the youngest labrador is afraid of water, but Rosie just loves to jump in!

After our walk and swim, we are driving back to Puerto de Pollenca, a lively fishing harbour. Here we find a great place to eat, right at the water side; “Stay Restaurant”.

The dogs are sleeping in the car, totally exhausted. Later, after we have had our supper, we will take them again for another outing on the beach, before we drive home.

Cat sitting in Beesel, village along the river Maas

December, 2019

This month, I am taking a ten day leave and go for a house- and cat sit in the tiny Dutch ‘drake town’ Beesel. I am still a member of one of the biggest house- and petsitters websites; http://www.TrustedHousesitters.com. Once you build up some (good) references, the opportunities to housesit are endless! My temporary home borders the woods and fields and both sunrise or sunset can be enjoyed from one of the rooms. It is a light and colourful house, full of singing bowls, gongs, Indian tapestry and small bottles of aromatherapy. I feel ZEN in no-time! The cat Ziggy is quite a personality; nothing is safe on the counter nor on the coffee table, he needs to sit on your chest (not lap) at least for one hour in the evening and loves to brings a mouse in the house. He does not only play with it, but eats the whole mouse, including the tail, right in front of you!

The hiking path starts immediately out of the house and brings you within ten minutes to the river Maas, which meanders through the countryside of Limburg.

The tiny, sleepy village does not have any supermarkets, but there are plenty of restaurants, two backeries, a castle, chapels and the Beltkoren mill ‘De Grauwe Beer’. This mill, situated along the Maas, is still open for visitors on regular hours. Vibrant Maastricht and Roermond are a short car drive away, so no time to get bored!

A visit to Kessel, on the other side of the river, is on my priority list. I decide to go hiking to the ferry and pass Castle Nieuwenbroeck on the border of the village. Once closer to the water, the views over the flat Dutch landscape are endless.

For less than one euro, the ferry brings you to the other side, where Castle ‘De Keverberg’ towers over the banks of the river. This is one of the oldest fortresses from The Netherlands, though ruined various times, extended and rebuilt. It has an impressive history and nowadays people can tour the inside and learn about its past.

For many years, only the walls of this historic monument were remaining. The inhabitants of Kessel didn’t want to rebuild another castle. There are already 50 castles in the province of Limburg and more than 300 castles in The Netherlands! Also, the view from 30 meters above the Maas is one of a kind. To enjoy this view you need glass. For those reasons they decided to rebuild the castle into a modern version. In 2008 a project started with many volunteers of Kessel. It took seven years and more than 25.000 hours to erect a different version of the former castle. The old walls are still standing, but inside a totally new construction was made, to support the different levels. They used ecological methods and solar panels. The theme for the rebuilding became ‘Broken Glass From The Past’ and you will recognize this in the shape of the windows, the rooftop, the lay-out of the gardens and the decor.

While visiting ‘De Keverberg’, don’t forget to go down to the original cellars, admire the endless views from upstairs and watch the movie, about the history of the rebuilding of this modern creation!

A couple of hours later, I return along the mansions of Kessel to the ferry. The days are short and I still have to walk for another hour through the fields. Just before sunset I arrive home, where Ziggy is welcoming me on the counter top. Dinner time!

 

A festival of lights and culture in The Hague, ‘Royal City by the Sea’……

December, 2018

During these last days of the year, I have a house-and catsit in a city, where I haven’t been for many years. A city filled with musea, history, modern buildings and impressive government buildings, palaces, many stores and on a short distance the sea.

It is a two-hour car drive from my home in the eastern part of The Netherlands to The Hague, but it is a totally different world! After getting settled in my temporarily home, I hop on the tram and the first thing you notice is the mixture of nationalities and languages.

I get off at Central Station, where I have an appointment with an old friend and I am impressed, as the station is huge and has changed completely. Our meeting point is the piano, where everybody can hit a few notes and which is placed in the hallway. Just a couple of hours after my arrival in the big city, I already get a sightseeing tour from somebody, who knows The Hague very well.

The first thing you notice, is the abundance of lights, illuminating the historical buildings all over town.

‘The Royal City by the Sea’ is a nice combination of old and new and during these few days, I just get a taste, what this interesting town has to offer. I visited Mauritshuis, where you find all kinds of famous Dutch and Flemish masters. While entering the museum, I witness a demonstration of the ‘yellow vests’. Interesting to see how just a few people are triggering the police, while all others are trying to have a peaceful demonstration.

Panorama Mesdag, with a special exhibition of The Storm, is a museum you have to visit, as it is one of a kind! The guardian of the museum showed me an optical illusion; he walked ‘into the painting’ and collected a clog, which seemed very big from a distance, but was just as small, as the one closer by……….

It is like a dome and you have the feeling you are standing on the beach! Many artists, besides Mesdag and his wife Sientje van Houten, have been working on this fabulous piece of art.

On New Years Day, I meet up again with my old friend and he treats me to a wonderful ‘saté’ lunch, in an Indonesian restaurant called ‘De Poentjak’. From there we stroll through The Hague and finally take the tram to Scheveningen (by the sea), where he shows me the different harbours. I am impressed, as everything has changed so much. It must have been many years ago, that I visited this part of Scheveningen.

We finally end up at ‘Simonis aan de haven’, a wonderful place to get your favorite fish! Here its ‘self service’, a great way to have lovely food for a fair price! We just grab a bottle of wine (for 13 euro’s), sit ourselves upstairs, from where you have a wonderful overview. While outside the fireworks are in full swing, we catch up on stories of the past………

Later, we walk over the famous boulevard and witness the woodstacks, which will be burned in the evening. This year they cause many problems, as of the increasing wind.

 

 

 

Along the promenade, there is an exhibition of statues.

It is all part of ‘Beelden aan Zee’, a museum in Scheveningen, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. At the moment, they have a wonderful gathering of artwork of Ossip Zadkine, the same artist I saw in France, in Les Arques.

From the boulevard, we walk through the Kurhaus. In front of the Kurhaus there is a skating rink and the Kurhaus itself, is nowadays surrounded by many other buildings.

I realize that I have been away for 23 years and time didn’t stand still………..

 

 

Exploring impressive Chateau de Bonaguil, Puy L’Eveque and Domme

October, 2018

You will find the fortified Château de Bonaquil in between the Périgord and the Quercy, in the municipality of Saint-Front-sur-Lémance. It is a hidden treasure and surrounded by pure nature. My second attempt to reach the castle was more successful. My advise; just go by car and not by feet!

The castle is an example of evolution in architecture. Built in the 13th century, extended and changed end 15th and beginning 16th century. It’s never attacked, thanks to its impressive defence system.

It is a great place to visit, with all different towers, cellars and even a small museum upstairs. If you walk all the way up, the views are something else!

During our visit we also could admire the work of a local artist. The modern statues against the ruins of the castle were an eye catcher……

From the castle to Puy LÉvêque is a nice drive, partly along the river and passing the famous vineyards of this area. The town is situated right on the river Lot and has pretty steep roads going down to the river. If you follow the bridge, you get a nice overview of the old town from the other side.

Frayssinet-le-Gélat is a great gateway for visiting many historic towns and other cultural attractions. To the North, in the Dordogne, you will find another ‘must see’; Domme. It is a famous bastide town, perched high above the river Dordogne on a cliff. Although it is very touristic, it kept its charme and as soon as you start walking along the promenade around the town, you forget the busy centre. While walking you will pass the remains of the fortified walls and the gateways into town, like the Port del Bos and the Porte de la Combe. There is a variety of honey-coloured houses and cottages and amazing views over the river and valley from every corner of the town. For those who are interested, Domme gives the opportunity to visit the caves, which are situated underneath the town.

During my stay in Frassinet-le Gélat, I tried to visit as many places as possible. Too many to mention in this blog. I fell in love with the area, as it has not only beautiful nature and wonderful hiking paths, but also so much culture. Every village or town is a museum and always there is river lingering through the countryside. A place to go back!

 

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Cahors, other gems along the river Lot

October, 2018

The Lot’s character is formed by its ‘causses’ (limestone plateaux), through which the Lot, Dordogne and Célé valleys have carved their way. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is known as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Tucked away on a cliff, a 100 meters above the river Lot, this medieval village is a must see!

From Frayssinet-le-Gélat, you have to drive first to Cahors and from there it is around a rough 30 kilometer drive along the river; a lovely scenic drive and fairly quiet around this time a year.

Watch your speeding limit when driving in between Espère and Cahors! I got 4 times a fine, as it turned out I was driving 57 km an hour instead of 50! Probably, I was too much focusing on the directions that I didn’t see the 50 km sign! As I drove this road on various occasions, I received different fines for the same stretch…………too bad.

Saint-Cirque-Lapopie is more or less one big museum. Spend your day admiring the medieval houses, visiting the impressive inside of the Gothic church and taking pictures from the upper lookout point! The views over the Lot valley and the village itself are lovely.

There is definitely no shortage of tiny restaurants, cozy terraces and craft stores. In the winter, a handful of artists are the only inhabitants of the village. It must be pretty lonely, as it is quite isolated.

We had a great and very affordable lunch, on a secluded patio at ‘La Terrasse’. Don’t forget to walk to the other side of the village, from where you get a view over the old graveyard.

Best is to combine a visit with a trip to Cahors, but then you need at least two days. I got a taste of Cahors during my second week in France and visited all different corners of this typical French town, which is like a puzzle put together on a peninsula, in a loop of the river Lot.

Cahors is a city of art and history and best known for the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne and the famous Valentré Bridge. The city was founded in Roman times and became an important centre of trade and finances in the Middle Ages. The centre is still intact. The Valentré Bridge was built in the 14th Century and is found on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

A lovely town to stroll around, feel the French atmosphere and visit Les Jardins Secrets, which are scattered throughout the town.

 

 

Rocamadour, on the route to Santiago de Compostela

October, 2018

One of the neighbours in Frayssinet-le Gelat tells me Rocamadour is not worth visiting. Too many other more interesting places. I am pleased I ignored her advise and drove my car over the incredible small but fabulous road, in between Le Vigan and the place, where 170 miracles happened. I suppose you better avoid this very popular destination in high season, when several buses are unloading tourists and pilgrims on a daily basis. This time of the year is perfect for a visit, with barely any traffic on the road and the sky crispy clear. The best and only way to discover Rocamadour is by foot. Just park the car opposite the tourist information office and start walking on the road, from where you get an unforgettable view over the canyon and the old medieval village, with its churches, chapels and the Château.

We start our tour high up on the cliff, in the gardens of the Château. The interior is not open for the public, but you can walk via the steel bridge, bordering the garden and overlooking the Alzou Canyon. The entrance is 2 euros and you need coins for the machine to open the gate. You better start walking through the gate immediately, as there will NO ticket coming out of the machine (although it says so) and the gate closes right behind your back. A lot of people lost their money! If you are tiny, you can squeeze with two people through the gate in one go! Obviously, we didn’t try…..

Again, I had to push myself up the stairs, although I felt nearly sick of my fear of heights. The panorama is just something you should have witnessed.

From the top of the cliff, we descended over the winding road with the various stations of the Cross. At a certain point we found a small cave, where you could buy nails, and hammer them in a cross, as for protection of the pilgrimage journey. I refused to do such a thing.

 

The curvy and shady road ends where the 8 churches and chapels are draped around a little square. Here you find the Chapelle Notre-Dame with the Black Virgin and also the Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of Saint Sauveur. The beauty of these medieval buildings is stunning.

 

From here the famous 216 steps of ‘The Grand Escalier’ go down to the picturesque main street, where many boutiques and cozy restaurants are overlooking the canyon. Imagine the pilgrims were climbing all those stairs on their knees. Some of them still do these days…….

We leave the beauty of Rocamadour, while walking through one of the four gates. From time to time we stop and look back on the impressive three successive levels of this village above the canyon.P1040870

There is an old local saying;

‘Houses on the river, churches on the houses, rocks on the churches, castle on the rock’…….