ORLEANS, FRANCE




On the move again and heading along the Loire, passing the castles of Amboise and Chaumont. We then stopped into Orleans before reaching Paris.

Orleans is an interesting and important town on the Loire River, and the main city in both the Loiret department and also the Centre (Loire valley) region. Situated south of Paris and east of Le Mans, it is a large town with more than 300 000 inhabitants.

Despite its central location in France a significant part of the historical centre of Orleans avoided damage during the Second World War, and the town has an extensive historic centre with many fine buildings to admire.

Because Orléans does not form part of the ‘major sights’ of the Loire Valley to the west or of Burgundy to the east it is perhaps less visited than it would otherwise be: that is unfortunate because it is a very attractive city with lots to see and so
including an extensive historic centre and many buildings of interest and several important musesums and garden.

The city is stunning, and has a historical background to match up to its amount of awesome. Known for a famous battle, won by hero Joan of Arc, We loved being able to walk the streets and just simply marinate in the culture and beauty.

It is quite easy to get your bearings in the centre of Orleans. The principal region of interest to visitors is around the cathedral and along Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the region of the town between here and the Loire river and the Pont Georges V bridge about 500 metres to the south, and also north of Rue Jeanne d’Arc to the Place du Martroi, Rue d’Escures and the Hotel Groslot.

We started exploring in Place du Martroi, which is a large open square surrounded by numerous imposing buildings and a very pleasant introduction to the city. In the centre of the square there is a large 19th century statue of Joan of Arc. The streets near here contain many of the larger shops such as FNAC which are found in most important French cities.

From here we followed Rue d’ Escures towards the east. One of the most splendid houses in Orleans, and open to the public, is the Hotel Groslot in Place de l’Etape, a very ornate and distinguished 19th century red brick building with a fine interior of the period.

We turned south towards the cathedral along the Place de l’Etape where we reached the Orléans Tourist Office and the open area in front of the cathedral. Be sure to visit the tourist office because there are many other interesting sites of note including several churches and other historically important buildings that you are lilely to overlook without a guide map. We didn’t have that much time to really explore.

The Cathedral Sainte-Croix is the most important historic monument in the city, a 17th centre gothic style cathedral with very old origins that has a great deal of impressive stonework ornamentation, in particular the façade which also features three large round windows and two square towers. The stained glass windows inside the cathedral were added in the year 2000. Near the cathedral you can also see a part of the walls that surrounded the original roman town.



After exploring the cathedral, we walked straight along the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the broad avenue to the front of the cathedral created at the beginning of the 19th century, at least as far as Place Charles de Gaulle. This is not the most beautiful square in the town but it is here that you can see the historic ‘house of Joan of Arc’. 

The Place de la Republique is another pleasant square along this road.
We kept turning to look behind us as we walked west along Rue Jeanne d’Arc because the view of the cathedral from here is very beautiful.



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BORDEAUX – POITIERS, FRANCE

BORDEAUX

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It was a change of scenery as we traveled into France across Gascony for
an orientation of Bordeaux, the wine capital of France. We then traveled

farther north by way of the Cognac area to Poitiers, of Black Prince 

fame.
There is no touristic season in Bordeaux. Only December is lighter with tourists. So what attracts the mass of tourists there around the year; maybe you think it’s the good weather?  It’s all about wine, admit it. Well, that’s what we knew before we visited it too, so no shame in saying it out loud. Bordeaux is most famous for its wine, and for good reason.  Before I get to amazingly descriptive details about the wine experience, let me tell you, there are plenty of other things to see and do there.

We explored the area on foot to soak up the atmosphere, admire the façades of the old buildings and enjoy some good shopping, and dining too. The Allées de Tourny leads down to the Place de la Comedie and the Grand Théâtre, home to the the Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. With its magnificent neo-classical façade, designed by 18th century architect Victor Louis, the structure consists mainly of wood, which provides for perfect acoustics, and has a circular cupola with a wonderful ceiling painted by Claude Robin in the 18th century. We then took a short walk from the Place de la Comedie, towards the Garonne River, which brought us to the Place de la Bourse. Very much one of the highlights of any visit to Bordeaux is the riverfront, which was revitalized as recently as the 1990s, as part of the urban development scheme, instigated by mayor, Alain Juppé. It has now been transformed from a’ no-go’ area of derelict warehouses, to offering pedestrian friendly, tree-lined promenades, with the old warehouses converted into shops and restaurants.


Bordeaux is an elegant city, reputed for its stylishness. It features large department stores, luxury brands, leading nationwide ready-to-wear shops, Parisian couturiers, jewellers, craftsmen, perfume shops, leather goods shops, specialised boutiques of all kinds,  which made Kim’s highlight. We then took a simple walk across the Triangle (formed by Cours de l’Intendance, Cours Clemenceau, and the Allées de Tourny), down the famous rue Sainte-Catherine, or through Old Bordeaux that revealed the incredible range of goods of all types on offer. The hustle and bustle shows that Bordeaux is a very prosperous, alive, and switched-on city.


After spending hour in the shops we continued to some other highlights:
Place de la Bourse (Miroir d’Eau) – Personally we loved this place. We thought it is just a fountain but they made a great attraction which looks absolutely stunning!
Place de la Victorie (Victory Square) – is one of the busiest areas with bars, restaurants, cafes, a chic tramway, and beautiful architecture. There’s always a crowd in the Victory square, and events, parties and concerts are often organized there.
Musée d’Aquitaine – It’s the museum to see in Bordeaux. It features historical collections from within the region (all the way since prehistory) but also from faraway lands since the age of great discoveries.
Tour Pey-Berland  the monument is the best spot to see the panoramic view of the city. It’s also lovely to look at from down below.

POITIERS 




There isn’t a lot to do at Poitiers, but it is a pleasant small city, and visitors will find relaxed atmosphere, especially compared to Paris. We arrived to the city centre late afternoon. It has a small square in front of the City Hall and is surrounded by cafes, where you can sit down with a glass of wine or coffee or get something to eat. It gets packed on weekends, especially during summer. Other parts of the town may give you an impression of a ghost town, especially during lunchtime, when the shops are closed, which is the time we arrived. We dropped our bags and quickly enjoyed the change in the weather and walked around admiring the quietness. We didn’t take too many photos because we did a lot of walking early at Bordeaux. Later that night we ventured out for a couple of night shots.


The Baptistry of St. John is one of the oldest Christian buildings in Europe, dating back to 4th century. Inside, you can see the baptismal pool on the floor, the St. Pierre Cathedral has organ performances and the Church of Notre Dame Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of France, so every city of town will have a church named Notre Dame (Our Lady). Poitiers’ Notre Dame has light shows some evenings after dark. Really didn’t get a chance to look around Poitiers

Highlights here:
https://youtu.be/FRDw26itBtA

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BURGOS TO BILBAO

BURGOS

We began this morning with a nice breakfast and on the bus heading towards the town of Burgos. The extraordinary Gothic cathedral of Burgos is one of Spain’s glittering jewels of religious architecture.  It looms large over the city and skyline. On the surface, conservative Burgos seems to embody all the stereo­types of a north-central Spanish town, with sombre grey-stone architecture, the fortifying cuisine of the high meseta (plateau) and a climate of extremes. But this is a city that rewards deeper exploration.  Below the surface lie good restaurants and, when the sun’s shining, pretty streetscapes that extend far beyond the landmark cathedral.



We started with a Gothic city gate that leads into a large square by the Burgos Cathedral. This gate is on the modern Camino and has been such for centuries. It is almost across the street from some hotels and leads directly to the cathedral, identified as Spain’s most spectacular Gothic cathedral. It was begun in 1221. You can have a lengthy detailed tour of it, including the tomb of El Cid, but we arrived early in the morning and nothing was open.  The cathedral was indeed very ornate, but it is easy to see so many cathedrals as to be less moved.  After being told our leave time we quickly continued on through the heart of the old city, past plazas, palaces, and memorials to Columbus and El Cid. Some quick photos and video, we then walked up to the Convent de las Huelgas, founded by the sister of Richard the Lion Heart in 1187. There was an ancient fort, but so little is left of it we were told it was not worth going in to it. Apparently when Napolean’s forces left the city in defeat, they took as much loot with them as they could and destroyed defenses.



That brought us back to town for lunch time. We were both quite hungry and did not find the place someone recommended, so we just picked one on the Camino route. Their English was less than my Spanish, without English language menus. Unfortunately the few terms we know for food mostly did not appear on the menu. Kim ordered a Ceasar salad and I ordered the smallest hamburger listed. Both were huge and we left stuffed. The burger came complete with huge meat patty, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg sunnyside up on top. The bun was useless. Back on the bus for our next destination.

BILBAO




Bilbao in Northern Spain is a perfect city for a relaxing weekend escape. It’s big enough to keep you entertained with the restaurants and cafes, the beautiful buildings and gorgeous scenery. The nightlife is great and of course there’s the incredible Guggenheim Museum which you won’t want to miss. There is plenty to do but it is also small enough so you don’t feel like you need to rush around and tick all the sights off your list. Bilbao is the largest city in Northern Spain but it is by no means a hectic place. It is the kind of city where you can take your time and stroll around; Stop for a coffee, or head to a pinchos bar for wine and delicious snacks. We took a walk through the old town and browsed the boutiques and traditional stores that felt like they’ve been there since the beginning of time.



Bilbao is so small that you can walk around the whole city in a day.  We only had a few boring hours near the museum. You can easily see all the highlights, all the beautiful buildings, the quaint little shops and stunning churches and also soak up the vibe of the city. 



You will find it to be charmingly relaxed with a quaint yet stylish feel. It is undeniably Spanish, you only need to look up at the buildings or into the faces of the locals to feel the infectious Spanish attitude. There are rustic and wonky Spanish apartments that tower above narrow, winding streets – these are the type where you expect to see old ladies shouting rapidly from the top windows and drying their washing from their small, flower filled balconies. There are beautifully grand, dominating buildings that sit next to sleek, modern buildings. These buildings contrast so markedly that it makes them both seem even more spectacular by emphasizing what they may or may not have.

Watch the movie here

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