Darlene Foster's Blog

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

We just returned from a weekend in the lovely city of Valencia, a two-hour drive in the car from us. It is another one of those wonderful Spanish cities with fascinating architecture and its own unique personality. I will write more about it later and share pictures. Tomorrow I am off on a train to Madrid and the following day I will fly to Canada. I have a jam-packed schedule once there as I will be launching my latest book and visiting schools and libraries in Vancouver and area, Calgary and Medicine Hat. I’ll also be visiting friends and family in all three cities. So, I will not be spending much time on the computer over the next three weeks.

While wandering the streets of Valencia, I came upon this amazing Valencian traditional dance performance in a square behind the cathedral. It was the highlight of my trip. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I look forward to connecting again when I return!

As Remembrance Day approaches, I thought I would share a visit I made to a Canadian War Cemetery in Holten, Holland earlier this year. 1394 soldiers are buried in this cemetery, all but three are Canadian soldiers who were part of the liberation of this part of the Netherlands.

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The information centre is well presented and provides a fifteen-minute film explaining the liberation and how the cemetery came to be. Stories of some of the soldiers are related in the film. On one wall, the names of each soldier buried in the cemetery are listed. An extensive digital database is available with stories of each of the killed soldiers. There is also a touch screen computer with eyewitness stories of soldiers and the inhabitants of the area at the time of the war. Other touch screens have films of the liberation of several villages and towns. I am sure many people come to research family members who are buried here.  A “tranquillity bench” to sit and contemplate,with soft music in the background, is a nice touch.

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The most remarkable thing for me was a tiled wall made recently by students from the Holten primary school. The children were given a task to paint a tile with the theme “war and peace”. I found it very moving.

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The tattered flag from the battlefield

The cemetery itself is extremely well kept. I was overcome with emotion by the maple leafs on the gravestones depicting the names, ranks and ages of the fallen. The two youngest were only seventeen. I thought of the mothers who would never see their sons again, the wives missing their husbands and the children who would grow up without their fathers.

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When I mentioned to the officers in charge that I was Canadian, I was treated very special. Even after all this time, the Dutch people continue to be grateful to the Canadians for their part in liberating their country. I was proud, saddened and extremely moved by this visit. I could not stop the tears.

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Even though no one in my family was killed in WWII, which happened before I was born, I have been reading books and watching movies of this terrible time in our history for many years. Visiting this special place made it much more real.

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May they rest in peace, these brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice so others could be free.

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I can’t believe it has been a year since we went on our wonderful Mediterranean cruise. I wrote about it here, here, here and here. I realize I had not written a post on our favourite stop, the historic country of Malta. We only spent a morning at this amazing place but we loved it.

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It was early morning as we entered the Grande Harbour where a mix of Middle Eastern and European architecture greeted us. Malta’s location has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base, and a succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, have ruled the islands and left their mark. I had read so much about this place and was eager to explore Valletta, the capital city. A short walk from the boat and up an elevator took us into the heart of the fortified city.

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The fortified city of Valletta

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A sample of the many sculptures found throughout the city

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Wouldn’t you love to have a coffee by this unicorn fountain?

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Queen Victoria graces the entrance to the impressive library

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A fabulous fountain

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The 8 point Maltese cross, the symbol of the Knights of St. John,  is everywhere

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Romantic windows grace many homes and apartments

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Malta is well known for its unique door knockers

I visited St. John’s Co-Cathedral and was gobsmacked, as the British would say. The plain facade looked more like a fortress and gave no indication of the marvels inside. This was the church of the Order of the Knights of St. John and was completed in 1577. The interior was originally very simple but over the years the Grand Masters and Knights donated gifts of artworks and financial contributions to enrich it. One gift was the original painting of the beheading of John the Baptist by Caravaggio which hangs in the Oratory. I couldn’t believe I was standing in front of this amazing work of art. Of course, photographs were not allowed so you will have to take my word for it. I was, however, allowed to take pictures in the opulent Sanctuary.

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The cathedral houses a museum with elaborate vestments and incredible Flemish tapestries. The urge to snap a couple of photographs was strong but I resisted. I also resisted touching those centuries old tapestries representing hours and hours of work. I was in awe.

The Grande Harbour is a busy place with a variety of boats.

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A typical Maltese fishing boat

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A yacht for the rich and famous

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Me in Malta

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We found a number of cute signs including this one. In case you are wondering, yes we had coffee and cake at one of the many charming outdoor cafes. I can’t remember the question.

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As we left Malta, we promised we would be back.

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The steady beat of drums, the swift march of soldiers, animal-skin clad barbarians, painted faces, colourful shields, standard bearers, gladiator sandals, dancing maidens, priests, soothsayers and elegant senators. We find ourselves in the midst of the Romans and Carthaginians Festival, just forty minutes from where we live. This spectacle is held every year to celebrate the vibrant history of the strategic port city of Cartagena.

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Cartagena has more than 2000 years of history. The Romans and Carthaginians Festival is a remembrance of the second Punic War, beginning with the foundation of Qart Hadast, the name given to Cartagena by the Phoenicians in 228 BC, and ending with its capture by the Romans in 209 BC.

Throughout the last ten days of September, battles are re-enacted, ancient ceremonies held and troops in full battle dress march through the streets of Cartagena.  The Carthaginian and Roman armies arrive by sea in a dramatic display and then march through town to an encampment set up on the football field. We were very fortunate to witness part of this event during an evening I will never forget. The costumes and attention to historic detail are amazing as you will see from a few of the many pictures I took.

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It was as if all the citizens were in costume for the event. And like everything in Spain, the entire family was involved.

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Imagine my excitement when monks appeared leading large bulls through the narrow streets.

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This ancient High Priest gave me a big smile after I took his picture

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A serious soothsayer

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Cheerful dancing maidens happy to pose for me.

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A Nobel Senator and his good wife

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One of many standards born through the streets of Cartagena.

 

There was so much more. I hope you enjoyed a sample of this spectacular festival where history comes to life. If you ever have an opportunity to be near Cartagena, Spain around the end of September, you must take this in.

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The ultimate gladiator sandals. Now where can I buy a pair?

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My favourite day in Provence was when we attended a cooking class in Vaison la Romaine. Cuisine de Provence is run by the lovely Barbara Schurenberg at her picturesque country home. The grounds are postcard perfect. They include an olive grove, where the olives are harvested and pressed into olive oil used in all her cooking. There is also a substantial herb garden.

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DSCN5164Our class of four learned to make typical Provencal dishes using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Barbara was an excellent instructor using a hands-on style of teaching, giving each of us an opportunity to practice what we learned. At the end of the lesson, we  sat down to a feast of our efforts and a glass of local wine, served on the terrace. We left with tummies full, a file of recipes and smiles on our faces.

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We started by picking herbs from the garden and then learned how to chop them very fine to make our own Herbs de Provence.

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We made Tapenade with green and black olives. The secret ingredient – two anchovy fillets. Oh dear, I guess it is not a secret anymore. It was excellent served on a fresh baguette!

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We also made Verrine Melon Glace. Very refreshing on a hot day. Provence’s answer to Gazpacho and so easy to make.

DSCN5178Here I am making Mini Onion Tarte Tatins, covering the mixture with puff pastry. It was two French sisters, Carolina and Stephine Tatin, who created the upside down tarte by accident, in their hotel during the 1880s.

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The finished tatins straight out of the oven. A great hors-d’oeuvre to delight your guests.

DSCN5187My favourite was the Petites Quiches Provencales made with sweet grape tomatoes straight from the garden. I have made this crustless quiche since I came home and am proud to say it turned out well. This will be a regular at my house now.

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Sauteing the vegetables for  the Tarte Provencale. Am I having fun or what?

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The finished Tarte Provencale, soooo tasty. This and a salad is all I need for a summer meal.

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Our excellent instructor, Barbara, with the Apricot Galette ready for the oven. Barbara is mentioned in Rick Steves’ Provence and the French Riviera.

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The Apricot Galette ready to eat. A perfect dessert.

DSCN5193We finished off the meal with a cup of espresso.

It was a marvellous day, one I will never forget. Especially every time I make one of the delicious recipes at home. Hubby is looking forward to the Apricot Galette and the Poulet Provencal, which I plan to make very soon.

DSCN5183 (2)Note the perfect quote on the wall in Barbara’s kitchen.

You could also say, “You are only as good as the last book you wrote!”

If you are ever in the area, I suggest you consider taking a class with Barbara at  Cuisine de Provence. She has a variety of recipes and changes what she teaches daily. My friend has taken three classes already and each one was unique. Check out her website here.

Have you ever taken a cooking class while visiting another location?

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Cicadas chirping in the trees, doves calling out to each other, a fluffy grey cat named Cerise sprawling on the pathway, a colourful bougainvillaea in one corner, a potted palm in another, the scent of herbs wafting from the herb garden and a gingerbread house for a tool shed. I lean back in the most comfortable S-shaped chaise lounge and view a huge pine tree soaring to the sky, pine cones glistening on top like Christmas ornaments. Where am I? Lounging in a delightful garden beside a glimmering crystal clear pool in sunny Provence, France. I reach over and have a sip of Rosé and nibble on brie, apples and a fresh baguette. Maybe I am in heaven!

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It is a girlfriend get-away and we eat, nap, read, eat some more and chat in the most delightful setting. We wake up to the sound of church bells and have breakfast on the balcony with a gorgeous view of the village church. We have tea and handmade nougat before bed watching the lights come on in the church belfry. I do some writing.

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This is what we woke up to every morning

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Our evening view, sigh

We drive the back roads through a canopy of trees and visit a market in Cavaillon where we buy Herbs de Provence and table linen and enjoy a lovely lunch at Cafe Jardin.

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DSCN5078I go for a relaxing evening stroll around the village of Jonquerettes where we are staying. 

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Scenes from the medieval village

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A typical village street

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The village of Jonquerettes

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A haunted house I am sure!

On another day we drive past fields of sunflowers and vineyards, stop at a village boulangerie to buy fresh baguettes and amazing French pastries and attend a cooking class.

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A field of dreams!

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One of many Boulangeries we can´t pass by

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What to choose??

I have a fabulous and relaxing five days in Provence.

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A perfect setting to inspire some writing

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It may not be heaven but it is close!! I will be back.

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Eyguieres, Provence, one of the many charming villages we passed through.

We stayed at a wonderful holiday rental owned by the charming and accommodating Robert and Dominique Boyer. Check it out here.

Next post – more about the cooking class I attended.

Two weeks ago we took a drive to Malaga on the Costa del Sol and drove up into the mountains to the small village of Sedelia. We encountered stunning scenery along the twisting road, a small church and a traffic jam, of goats!

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A typical traffic jam in the Andalusian mountains

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medieval bridge in the mountains

Medieval bridge in the mountains

Tiny church in the middle of nowhere

Tiny church in the middle of nowhere

We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast with a stunning view and had dinner at a cosy restaurant in town. It was all very picturesque and a nice little get-away.

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A room with a view

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Restaurante Lurena, excellent food

The village of Sedilia

The village of Sedilia

Can´t get enough of these charming mountain villages

Can´t get enough of these charming mountain village streets

There was a reason for the trip though and that was to meet Dot, an eight-month-old Bodeguero. Dot came home with us and is now part of our family.

Dot didn´t make a sound on the five hour car ride to her new home.

Dot didn´t make a sound during the five-hour car ride to her new home.

Dot was quite shy at first as she lived in the mountains with an elderly man so was not used to people, traffic and houses. But she has settled in well and makes friends easily. (both the human kind and the canine kind)

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She loves going for walks and car rides! On the weekend we took her to a car show and she was very well-behaved.

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She makes friends everywhere we go. She loves to go for coffee with us and is a big hit at all the coffee shops.

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We took a drive in the car to a biker bar for tapas. Dot made friends with a boxer. (the canine type)

A Spanish biker bar.

A Spanish biker bar.

Making friends

Making friends

Relaxing on the terrace

Relaxing on the terrace

What do you think? Is she settling in and at home with us? Did we make a good choice?

In case you are wondering, she was already named Dot because of the large black dot on her back. I like to think it is from the delightful children´s book by Peter Reynolds, The Dot . You knew there had to be a literary reference!

 


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