Archive for May, 2023

We are spending 7 days, 6 nights here in Avignon. That’s after 3 nights in Nimes. Soak up a bit of Provençal life and do day trips from this walled city to explore other parts of Provence. My 3rd trip here, actually. The first time, a friend and I drove from Paris through Tours and Lourdes to Provence before meeting up with friends in Barcelona. That was in 2003. Soon after, I headed back after visiting Lourdes, hopping on a train to Toulouse then boarding an onward train all the way to Avignon. In both trips, I felt shortchanged that I didn’t spend as much time as I could. All rushed, busy with day trips to explore Arles, Nimes, Aix en Provence, Le Baux, Saint Remy de Provence and Marseilles. All touch and go. Just “sightseeing”. I’m not doing that again. I’m spending a whole week in Avignon!

Palace of the Popes best viewed & enjoyed with sorbet on a hot day.
Having my Quiche Lorraine in my hotel room.

This time, we checked out the Saturday Market in Avignon, did some retail therapy, dined in French restaurants and a pizza parlor in the city center and ate a lot of ice cream and sorbet! I love Provençal cuisine as it blends French with Spanish dishes with a sprinkling of Italian from its being under the Romans for some time. South of France literally means near the border of Northern Spain. Also, Avignon is NOT exactly that provincial — the city vibes are there, in the shops, in the many touristy stalls, cafes, theatres, gelato bars and restaurants. But so much more relaxed and milder in temperament or character than Paris. Easy to cover the entire walled city in 2-3 days but it’s a convenient base for excursions to explore more of Provence. We enjoyed the spacious hotel room we booked, unpacked with comfort, claimed the 3 closets in the room and made good use of the sitting room for our dine-in dinners while our laundry dries.

The Papal Palace Garden
Avignon has many “old” and modern spots.

The ticket costs only €13 for the Palace, Garden and the Bridge. The tablet guide they give you is so high-tech it took some time to figure out how to make it work. Took an hour and a half but going to the viewpoint for St. Benezet Bridge or Pont de Avignon requires some uphill climb. If you don’t care to walk or climb, just hop on the tiny, silver Choo-choo train for €10. I won’t tire you with details on the Papal Palace and the Avignon Papacy. Suffice it to say that 7 popes lived in Avignon rather than Rome from 1309 to 1376 because of conflict with the French crown. Thus, Avignon holds that distinction of being the papal capital for some time.

Avignon Bridge or Pont d’ Benezet
Inside the Palais de Pape

We enjoyed our twice-a-day ice cream sessions here. And the punishing summer heat (29C) must have worked up our appetites too. The outdoor cafes and restaurants offered many options. Paella, steak Charolais, fillet mignon, salmon risotto, entrecôte, salad nicoise, Magret de canard, pizza and pasta. And some ice cream and granita bars offer as many as 74 flavours! You can’t go hungry in Avignon. C’est La vie!

We enjoyed many good meals here. No French portions; the servings overwhelmed me!

NIMES. Pronounced NIM. As in denim. And yes, denim originated here. Denim means “from Nimes” in French. The sturdy fabric as we know today was “accidentally” manufactured here in the 17th century while trying to make “serge de Nimes”, a heavy-duty fabric. So you see, this pair of modern jeans really has a more European history attached to it. But denims aside, Nimes truly has an interesting story to tell.

Arenes de Nimes
This Roman amphitheater from the first century is so well-preserved

The last time I was here was in 2003. As we were just driving around Provence, I only had time to check out the amphitheater and Maison Caree. This time, we visited Tour Magne which involved an uphill climb that proved to be a longer stretch because some construction work blocked the street towards the Roman ruins. Refreshed by lunch at Mercadante (best carbonara and fish with risotto) and some ice cream and sorbet from La Dolcezza, we also visited and sat around the Jardin de La Fontaine near the Temple of Diana. Nimes isn’t big, very walkable, but packed with so much history! Visitors to Provence should mark Nimes as a worthy detour.

View from the Colloseo
Maison Caree

Amazing how many of Nimes’ Roman ruins are so excellently preserved. Since first century, Nimes became like a “prototype” of Roman colonisation in Gaul. Visiting it now, you get a sense of how rich this town was during Roman times. The huge and well- preserved Arenes de Nimes seats 24,000 now used for concerts, the occasional bullfights and other events. The best preserved Roman temple is also in Nimes. Maison Caree (French for “square house”) was built in 4-7 AD, dedicated to the grandsons of Emperor Augustus Caesar, both of whom died young. Designed with 6 Corinthian columns, it inspired the Eglise de La Madeleine in Paris, another iconic landmark. The temple stands proudly in the town Center. As for the Tour Magne, this was used as a watchtower and was actually part of the Roman city wall in ancient times. One can only imagine how Nîmes looked then as a walled city.

A lonnnng uphill walk towards Tour Magne
Temple of Diana

We had some of our best meals and desserts here too. The “modern” part of this historic town gives off L.A. vibes. Even in the Jardin de La Fontaine near the Temple of Diana where we spent an hour or so idling time away, we met many locals with their unleashed dogs. Some furry friends took the chance to jump in and enjoy the pool while the swans looked menacingly. I was actually expecting a “fight” for territory but none happened. I guess everyone’s good and calm here. C’est La vie!

Nimes has this huge Jardin de La Fontaine
Aside from the Roman ruins, Nimes also has “modern” squares lined with shops. We had our best sorbet in this area. La Dolcezza for the best gelato and sorbet. Try citron basilic and foin de Camargue.

It’s 2023 and it’s been 4 years since I first visited this capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Just a day trip from Brussels then but as I mentioned in my last blog, I’d head back for at least a couple of nights here the next time around. And so it went, a weekend in Brugge or Bruges or however it’s spelled. Stayed in a hotel housed in a 17th century structure that used to be a brothel just a few blocks from the plaza.

Bruges at Sundown
Bruges without the tourist crowd

As soon as we checked in, we stepped out to have brunch at House of Waffles. Easily found a table and enjoyed our savoury and sugary waffles and liege. The next few times we passed it, there was always a long queue of tourists. So we satisfied our hunger in a burger joint with the most splendid view. That, and a visit to the old brewery where locals congregate for happy hours. Proost!

House of Waffles
Burger King Snacks with a View

There is this old brewery which seems to be favoured by many locals called De Halve Maan (Half Moon). We asked for the blond beer, which tasted a tad sweet, def not bitter, just like ale. From here, we walked back to the city hall area where a free concert was about to begin. We claimed our seats and listened as the orchestra played for a good half hour.

Blond Beer from De Halve Maan
Enjoyed an orchestra playing for a half hour here.

We had a lovely weekend here. Our hotel provided breakfasts and we chose to have it in the tiny garden and braved the slight chill. Enough to perk us up every sunny morning. Choosing to stay nights here was a good decision. We found and enjoyed Brugge sans the tourist crowd. Indeed, this medieval city is like Disneyland. You get the crowds from morning till early evening, then have it quiet, serene and lovelier without the crowds by sundown. Perfect!

The canal cruise
Have you watched the movie “In Bruges “? That’s the wooden house in that film.

Check out my blog on Bruges from an earlier trip:

Oh Yeah, Oye

Erlend Oye. La Comotiva Band. He’s now on my Spotify playlist. And errr, no I didn’t know him from Adam till my nieta introduced him to me. And treated me to his band concert here in Brussels! Turned out to be the highlight of our trip to Brussels. (Aside from the 2 food trips to Chez Leon)

The concert was staged in Brussels’ Botanique Garden — in one of the halls that’s standing room only and where the band went down the stage and got the entire crowd singing along! When it was near the concert’s end, the audience kept asking for an encore and refused to leave. So the band “escorted” everyone out like a pied piper, singing and playing along. Out the hall, along the passageway, through the stairs until everyone’s out the door.

I’ve attended concerts before. Have watched and enjoyed many bands too. But this is a first. Way beyond my expectations. I love their music now. It resonates across many generations. Nice beat, lively and socially relevant too. At performance night, they were dressed so casually, nothing fancy. So it felt like you’re just visiting a friend to jam with. Really. Check out his music on Spotify.

We covered a lot of museums in Amsterdam. Like 7! But only 1 museum in Brussels. Both cities proud of their Van Gogh and Magritte. One with a troubled Dutch mind who found expression in his art. Another who was quite happy with his life as artist, husband, leader and friend and expressed his joys in his art.

The Van Gogh collection is impressive. In his short life, Vincent was prolific, painting almost every single detail of his brief existence. With his numerous self-portraits, you can say he indulged in selfies. The dark rooms and galleries are intended to safeguard and protect his many artworks. The art world has Theo (Vincent’s brother) to thank for supporting Vincent throughout his turbulent moods and insecurities. This brother’s love is soooo moving, and one can understand how and why Theo passed nearly as soon as Vincent left. And just as touching was how Theo’s wife Jo made sure this Van Gogh collection found their way into our world today. Once more, the power of love made everything possible. How wonderful!

On the other hand, I find René Magritte’s collections so well-curated in the museum in Brussels. For less than half the admission price of major museums in Amsterdam, the Magritte Museum is truly value for money. The museum is massive and the collections hung so impressively. Like a lot of thought went into planning how the artworks should be displayed. It is easy to spend a whole afternoon here, and even to “space out” to enjoy this master’s works. The crowds are mostly locals, like Belgian schoolchildren and young adults likely studying art here.

I know. You love Van Gogh. Can’t miss it in Amsterdam. But do visit Magritte Museum in Brussels too. Twice as big if not more than Vincent’s museum in Dutchland, and equally impressive.

The MOCO is one of 4 museums in Museumplein along with Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedeldijk Museums. Of these 4, we missed only the Rijks but didn’t skip on the Rembrandt Huis which was surprisingly entertaining and engaging. The interactive element of this museum visit wasn’t lost on us. But MOCO? It’s the tiniest of the 4 hardcore museums we visited but packed with the more popular mod art that includes collections of Banksy, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Warhol, Kaws, Icy & Sot, Yayoi Kusama and more. Well curated and very very entertaining, the MOCO won’t fail to engage a young crowd. Artworks on display bear statements on the artist and the philosophical messages, either perceived or articulated by the artists themselves. For sure, The MOCO has its own philosophy and that message rang throughout the tiny museum. Not imposing, neither conflicting, but quite tolerant and persuasive.


The younger generation seems to relate more with contemporary art and modern art. Perhaps because of the more relatable and provocative messages that their artworks convey. The pop culture is also very persuasive with rebellious advocacies and non-conformist and thought-inducing ideas. Banksy, Icy and Sot are geniuses more than vandals. Their street art have made them familiar with their local audiences across all ages and economic strata. And there’s that element of mystery and danger too as they ply their art under illegitimate circumstances and situations.

Viewing these artworks is like having a dialogue with these artists breaking out of some censorship and restrictions. Not quite the same as viewing the works of Renaissance masters. Both appeal to the senses, but in a different way. I’m rambling, but that’s my take on it. 😊

Take Kaws. This American ex-freelance artist used to do work for Disney as graphic illustrator and has successfully breached the gap between fine art and commerce. Imagine Mickey Mouse with X eyes. Familiarity with icons like the Mouse plus other brands made Brooklyn-based Kaws’ collectibles such a craze among art fans. A stroke of genius, really, where art crosses the line towards commerce.

Then there’s Basquiat. He and his powerful messages behind his art. Dead too soon such that the art world had to compete for the limited supply of his artworks. Potent expressions on the great divide between rich and poor, black and white, the powerful and the powerless. In his very short life, Basquiat’s not too subtle advocacies found such an effective expression in his art.

All told, MOCO is for everyone to enjoy. In fact, all 4 museums in Museumplein in Amsterdam deserves a visit, plus a separate trip to nearby Rembranthuis. In Amsterdam, that’s what you do!

A Heineken Experience

A Heineken Experience

How do you spend Mother’s Day with your 2 elves? We’ve booked a 2pm walking tour today and the sun promises to be out the entire day with temps high enough to keep us comfortably warm throughout the day. At the last minute, one of the elves booked a Heineken Experience — a beer museum to educate us on the origin and history of this Dutch beer. The ticket is actually more expensive than tickets to Van Gogh and other major museums but it comes with 3 beers! And NOT just your ordinary beer. This one’s just made and delivered 2 days prior so you can’t get it any fresher. 🍻

There were many fun things to do inside the original Heineken brewery. More fun as you say “Proost!” often enough while lifting your beer glasses. The crew here are all young and fun, like they’re all slightly tipsy and friendlier. What it may have lacked in “substance” (how much can you tell about beer, anyway?) , it made up for it in golden liquid experience. Proost!

By 2pm, the walking tour commenced. It grew warmer by now and the sun was beating on us. The history lessons were good but after Heineken, it was difficult to jam all that info in one’s head. Trivia running from the city’s architecture, trading/merchant history, drug issues, red light district, “unplanned” monarchy, gay movement, water/flood engineering, etc. — all these clouded my mind enough.

As we walked back to the Centraal Station for the trip back to our hotel, we decided we’d drop in on the Sex Museum. It’s there. No harm dropping in and costs only €9. Well, that’s money wasted though it drew laughs among us so the fun makes it worthwhile, I guess. Be warned though. No subtleties here. Kamasutra fanatics may welcome the gross installations but really, it’s money and time wasted.

JORDAAN. It’s very bohemian here. Very trendy. My kind of neighborhood. And my elves love it too! A great starter for this trip, despite the first and hopefully the only boo-boo I made. Thought we’d arrive the next day but whoa, it was the same-day (of departure) late evening arrival for us in Amsterdam. Made last-minute booking and Day 1 went smoothly as we woke up bright and cheery in our hotel beside the train station just 2 stops from Schipol.

My 2 “elves” hitting this hip neighborhood.
Jordaan and its narrow canals and streets.

Brunch was in Joordan at Espressobar Tazzina after a visit of Noordermarkt. We didn’t want to miss this mercado because it’s open only on Saturdays and Mondays. Neither did we miss Bloemenmarkt to check out the “floating” flower market. The morning nourishment continues at Pancake Amsterdam near Anne Frank Huis. But we didn’t go there; instead we went to OUR HOUSE, a Museum of Electronic Dance Music. Really a techno music museum that’s a haven for DJ wannabes. Honestly didn’t think I’d find myself here but hey, I actually enjoyed it to a point where I may have embarrassed the young adults with me. 🤣 Amazing how technology has changed the music world and how the shift has focused towards world-famous DJs who rocked the club scene. Everything was completely relatable for people across generations — like how I came to reminisce over dance clubs where the tempo is dictated by the choice of danceable music mixed by creative deejays.

Noordermarkt where you’d find organic produce, along with antiques, vintage clothes and jewelry!
M playing like a real DJ!
Espressobar Tazzina where we preferred to sit by the window looking out onto the busy, vibrant street scene.

By mid afternoon, we found ourselves in Rembrandt House. This interactive museum showed us how the Dutch Master lived, painted, prospered, taught and welcomed friends in his lovely home. The house sits at a corner near the canal and each of the rooms — from the reception area to the large studio and meeting/negotiation room paints a dimension of Rembrandt as a painter, art trader, loving husband and friend. In particular, we loved the room where one is invited to sit and do sketches. A wonderful and meaningful way to spend at least a quarter to half hour in this house. Of course, one can take home his own sketches.

Into Visual Art and Audio Art
Rembrandt House

By the time we returned to our hotel, we were dead tired. Joordan, OUR HOUSE, Noordermkt, Bloemenmarkt, Rembrandt House — all compose a fine Day 1 spent in Amsterdam.

Traveling With These Two