We had a brilliant – if busy – first week in Europe back in May. We packed 4 countries into a week, landing in Paris and spending 2 nights there, then we picked up our lease car and headed over the channel to the UK.

We had 4 fun nights seeing the sights of London and Kent and catching up with friends before heading back over to Belgium where we stayed for a couple of nights in a gorgeous apartment just outside of Bruges. We briefly caught up with more friends in the Netherlands (right by the Belgium border), the it was the long drive through France down to our new home in the Dordogne region of the south west.

Here’s a little pictorial show and tell of what we got up to on our roadtrip:

Paris

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It’s probably our favourite city in the world, we were very happy to be back in Paris even if it was only for 2 nights (can’t afford to stay any longer on our budget!) We were all jetlagged from 2 nights worth of travel so chose a couple of things to see and do.

 

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After a long overnight flight then waiting 1.5 hours to get through immigration alone, we were over it. But any grumpiness was quickly forgotten with first morning pastries and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate)
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Waiting at the metro station
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Visiting Sacré Coeur and Montmartre
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Peeking at Paris
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So Paris….

Day two we ventured to the Musée D’Orsay, the famous art museum that’s filled with all kinds of treasures, but we wanted to show the kids some of the impressionist pieces we’d told them about. Sometimes I think we qualify for the world’s most boring parents…. 😉

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Posing on one of the many bridges over the Seine River
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The beautiful Musée D’Orsay building, almost as wonderful as the art inside
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Quite taken with Degas ballerinas

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Vincent Van Gogh, favourite Impressionist artist, so cool to see them in the flesh
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Poor Jack was still a wee big jetlagged! Catching a nap on the go.

Then it was time for lunch, so we headed over to St-Germain-des-Prés, one of our favourite neighbourhoods for lunch at a lovely little bistro that we discovered when we were here two years ago.

In contrast to what you might think of sniffy Parisian waiters, they have been lovely and accommodating to the kids both times we have been there 🙂

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Lunch – after months of little cheese or wine in Asia this fromage du chevré salade (goats cheese salad) and vin rouge was heaven!

For a little bit of a sweet treat we visited one of the famous Laudurée pâtisserie stores to goggle at the amazing treats and buy some macarons.

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Too much to choose from!
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With our macaron loot.

 

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Framboise (raspberry), caramel salé (salted caramel), citron (lemon), chocolat (chocolate)

We had a lovely time wandering through the streets until we reached the Champ des Mars and the Eiffel Tower. By then the grey sky had cleared so the kids had a fun time playing in the park while we enjoyed our little macaron picnic.

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Friendly maitre d’ 😉
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Playground with a view
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Underneath the Eiffel Tower, it’s a long way up!

And that was our Paris whirlwind visit. The next morning we got a taxi back out to the airport to pick up our trusty 208 Peugeot lease car, which we’ve got for the next 4 months. Squeezing everything and everyone in, we headed north.

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Our little Peugeot that the kids have nicknamed Mater because it is the same poo brown colour as him 😉

We drove up to Dunkerque to take the ferry across the English Channel. We parked ourselves by the kids play area for the 2 hour crossing which they loved.

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Jack making himself at home on the ferry watching the movie in the kids area

And just like that we were back in good old Blighty, this time with our offspring, and it was fish and chips with mushy peas at the pub for tea!

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First glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover
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Soph was a big fan of mushy peas!

The next couple of days we hit London and the sights. First up was the Natural History Museum….

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Ready to go!
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Wow it’s a real life meteorite!
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Little boy, big museum. Here he is pretending he’s Andy from the TV show ‘Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures’ which is filmed here.
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The dinosaurs were a huge hit. This guy even moved!
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Paleontologists in the making
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Spot the kiwis!

Next up was the Tower of London.

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Sophie was so excited to see the Crown Jewels – sorry no photos allowed inside!
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Trying hard to emulate the guard (and the other one just cracking up)
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The White Tower
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Tower Bridge – Jack was very excited and recognised it from Peter Pan 🙂

We swung by to say hi to Liz

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At Buckingham Palace

Then it was time for Big Ben and Westminster

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Big Ben. It was very cool seeing the kids recognise landmarks that they’ve seen in books and movies.
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London Eye
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Houses of Parliament

We then jumped on a double decker bus that we had to ourselves (?!) and the kids LOVED it. We headed over to Regent Street.

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Passing by Picadilly Circus on the bus
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Regent Street

Then it was time for the biggest treat of all – visiting Hamley’s Toy Store, all 5 floors of it. The kids were in absolute awe. They were allowed to choose something small each – Sophie chose a glitter tattoo kit and Jack a 100-piece superhero jigsaw puzzle.

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The entrance to Hamleys – this place is gonna be good!
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With the Hamleys bear
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Very happy with their purchases 🙂
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Tube selfie, such tourists…..

On our last day of our fleeting visit we headed down to Kent and visited Sissinghurst Castle Garden. It was SO pretty driving through the countryside and the gardens were absolutely beautiful. We had a lovely picnic in the grounds before we went into the gardens themselves and explored for a couple of hours.

Just a note on interpretive signage and trails aimed at kids for all the attractions we went to – it was done so well. Every place had a kids trail/quiz/activity sheet to do and Sophie loved it. Sissinghurst was no exception with a great garden trail/quiz sheet to do as we walked around.

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Entrance to the gardens
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An example of oast houses that are dotted all over the Kent countryside – designed to assist hops drying in the brewing process.

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The view from the top of the clock tower.
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Getting the kids accustomed to pub beer gardens at an early age!

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And that was England, done for the time being. It was so great to go back and show our kids where we used to live and we genuinely enjoyed being tourists there again.

The next day it was time to get back onto the ferry and over to France…

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The DFDS Seaways ferry

But only for about half an hour because we were heading to Belgium!

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Goeiedag Belgium!

We stayed for a couple of nights in the pretty city of Bruges. Mike and I had been here about 15 years ago right before Christmas, and it was so cold that the water had frozen in the fountain in the main square! So it was nice to come back and see it when it was a bit warmer.

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Delicious dinner of Carbonnade (Flemish beef and beer stew) along with frites and mayonnaise, YUM!

We stayed at a very cool AirBNB apartment that we booked last minute, but it was fantastic. It was set in the forest on the outskirts of Bruges in beautiful grounds, complete with some deer which the kids loved.

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The kids looking for deer in the apartment driveway
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The view out of the apartment window

We were quite taken with the architecture of the area, it was super chic with a mixture of brick and wood and immaculate landscaping everywhere you looked. If anyone knows a Belgian architect in Auckland please let us know 😉

We briefly went to the Netherlands for the day to visit some friends, and went to a very cool playground set in the forest so the kids could play.

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The kids on a giant inflatable canvas – apparently these are a NZ invention although we’ve never seen them (there’s one at the campground in Taupo we have it on good authority!)
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Weeeeeeeeeeeeee! On the flying fox

Then it was time to head south back into France towards our little house in the Dordogne where we will be for 10 weeks.

We *just happened* (small detour anyway) to be driving past the Le Creuset factory which is a bit of a holy grail for an enthusiastic cook like me. It’s in a tiny little town called Fresnoy-Le-Grande which is about an hour and a half north of Paris.

Unfortunately you can’t really see much of the factory where they still manufacture all of their product, but there is a super cute little factory shop next door which sells a whole bunch of stuff around 30% cheaper than the shops.

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Where the magic happens – a not very exciting view of the Le Creuset factory.
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The cute little factory shop next to the  Le Crueset factory.

I got a crêpe pan which I’ve been coveting for ages (highly practical for carting around Europe – not – but needs must). It would have been sooo easy to go crazy in there!

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With my crêpe pan outside the Le Crueset factory shop in Fresnoy-Le-Grande

Our stopover that night was in the cathedral city of Chartres. We got caught in Friday night Paris traffic so didn’t get there until around 7pm and the kids were starving, so we headed straight to dinner. Then when we came out it was dark, so I’m afraid no photo of the beautiful cathedral there. But it’s very cool.

I did manage to get a snap of Jack’s feet next to the pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Doing some of that is on the bucket list one day as well 🙂

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Only 1625km to go, you can do it…..!

In celebration of my new pan we co-incidentally had crêpes for dinner and they were ace. A savoury crêpe is called a galette which is a brown colour because it’s made with buckwheat flour. It’s then filled with all kinds of delicious savoury fillings – there were about 30 options to choose from at the restaurant we went to.

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Oeuf, jambon, champignon et fromage galette (egg, ham, mushroom and cheese)

And the dessert crêpes were to die for…….

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Some kind of Normandy crêpe concoction – filled with pomme, sauce au caramel beurre salé et chantilly (apple, salted caramel sauce and cream)

Then it was the final day of our roadtrip. The French fuel workers were on strike, so we were a bit anxious to see if we could fill the car up or not! But luckily the pumps in Chartres didn’t seem to be affected so we set off on the last leg down to the Dordogne.

We arrived early that evening, nearly 2,000km later. The kids were little troopers as per usual, squished in the backseat between one of our bags they hardly complained – especially as we had our secret weapon – a DVD player – to keep them entertained 🙂 They are allowed to watch it on trips longer than an hour.

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Happy camper!

We’re so happy to be down in the Dordogne and slowing the pace right down for the next 10 weeks. We’ve done a little bit of exploring but that’s for the next blog post……

 

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