Category Archives: Weekend Getaways

Refresh — Regroup — Relaunch

You may have noticed a significant absence of posts for the last three months — and that’s because Mark has been working away like a busy little bee over in the 1400s house. And I’ve been carefully building a base of clients for my writing and editing business.

We took a much-needed weekend escape at the end of February — over to the far western side of Normandy in beachside Brehal. We didn’t do a lot — ate, slept, read, watched movies, and had a few outings in the icy cold weather. But it was a good break and we came back feeling refreshed.

Mark looking out to sea in Brehal, Normandy, France

Mark looking out to sea in Brehal, Normandy, France

A moules (mussels) farm at the seaside in Normandy, France.

A moules (mussels) farm at the seaside in Normandy, France.

On an afternoon drive along the seacoast, we stumbled upon this medieval chateau ruin from the 14th Century in Regneville sur Mer and had a quick walk around. It’s a tiny but very pretty village facing the sea.

The corner of a 14th Century chateau ruin in the seaside village of Regneville sur Mer, Normandy, France.

The corner of a 14th Century chateau ruin in the seaside village of Regneville sur Mer, Normandy, France.

What was meant to be a short hop back over to England for Mark’s parents’ 40th anniversary party ended up being a two week visit instead. It’s always wonderful to visit with them and see all of the other assorted family and friends, but everyone in the house ended up sick as could be with whatever lurghi was hanging around England at the time and I ended up in A&E getting meds for a chest infection when our local GP couldn’t see me. Aarrgghh!

Margaret & Brian Harmes at 40th Anniversary Party

Margaret & Brian Harmes at 40th Anniversary Party

We arrived back in France exactly 4 weeks after our icy cold visit to the seaside in Brehal — and everything here at the farmhouse in Notre Dame de Fresnay had burst into bloom!

View of the Normandy countryside through the bedroom window in Notre Dame de Fresnay.

View of the Normandy countryside through the bedroom window in Notre Dame de Fresnay.

Daffodils beside the old well.

Daffodils beside the old well.

Down by the duck pond.

Down by the duck pond.

We’re preparing to move on from here in three very compressed weeks. But we’re headed to the OTHER large house belonging to the owners of this house — and we’ll be there for 6 weeks whilst Mark does renovation work on it. I’ll send pictures of that project as it progresses.

The REGROUP and RELAUNCH part of the title refers to us regrouping, going over to England for several weeks at the end of June, and trying to decide if we want to settle down or continue to work and travel for awhile longer. That’s a longer stand-alone post about the turbulent social and political factors at play here in Europe right now, so we’ll save that for another time.

I have to be truthful, it’s one of those things that sneaks up on you a bit as you get older — the mental cushion of a home base. And right now our ‘home base’ is a huge storage unit full of our possessions in England — one we refer to far too often when we reach for something and then realise that it’s in the $%^&£@! storage unit!

In the next couple of months, we will be relaunching ourselves away from here. And I have ALSO just relaunched my personal website — but I’ll leave that for a follow-up post.

Back soonish!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Inside the Salvadore Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain

You’ve seen my previous articles and photo essays — the goddess atop the Cadillac — followed by the eggs adorning the exterior facade. So now it’s time to have a wee peek inside the museum.

As I mentioned before, the Salvadore Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain is spread out over 6 levels accessed by stairs, stairs, stairs. So do be prepared for that!

Many of the items on display are either framed and behind glass, surrounded by reflective surfaces, encased within glass boxes, or were completely obstructed by other people in the way. All of those factors limited the amount of photos that I could take which would have even been worth trying to post online. But I think that this sprinkling of images will give you a small bit of insight into a very complicated mind. Whether it was drawing, painting, sculpture, film, or jewels — Dali seems to have been inspired to work in a variety of artistic mediums.

The final photograph was taken in a room full of jewelery and small carved objects — and I found it rather poignant that he chose to be there at the end, surrounded by the work that he created with love.

Take your time when you go to this museum — there is quite a lot to see and absorb.

Nose of the black Cadillac within the central courtyard


Goddess riding atop the Cadillac in Dali’s courtyard


Another view of the always busy courtyard


Sculpture niches in the courtyard of the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain


Dali’s humour on display in this vast ‘Sistine Chapel’ ceiling


The chairs which appear to be so small beneath the painting actually reveal the massive scale of this work of art by Salvadore Dali.


A very large and very lovely painting of women comprised of rock shapes


Dali’s “Soft Self Portrait’


Dali’s tomb within a wall of his museum in Figueres, Spain

Come back soon for more articles and photos of Barcelona and Figueres.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Dali Dreaming

Where did the last 21 days go? I am sitting in my darling apartment in the South of France and as I edit photos, I have just realised that it has been 3 weeks since I took these pictures in the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain.

The center atrium (more shots in an upcoming article) has the type of feature that reveals the wildly humorous streak which infused Salvadore Dali’s work. A gigantic sculpture of a goddess figure is riding atop a vintage black Cadillac beneath a stunning eye to the sky opening. It is actually breathtaking because it knocks your visual senses off-kilter.

A massive statue of a goddess rides atop the roof of a vintage black Cadillac at the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain.


An oculus or eye to the sky hovers above the atrium sculpture garden in Salvadore Dali’s museum in Figueres, Spain.


We’re already thinking of our next trip to Spain — but for now, here was how we spent an hour before we went to see the Dali works of art.

Mark pouring a glass of wine at lunch in Figueres, Spain.


Make sure to come back for more interior and exterior views of the Dali Museum in the coming days.


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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By The Sea, By The Sea — But Where Are We?

The familiar elements were all there…

The surf shops were selling t-shirts, swimsuits, and surfboards with names that I knew — Rip Curl, Billabong, Cocoa Beach — and the stack of blow-up flotation rings waited for the wee folks to waft about on the waves.

Beach clothing and boards on sale at surf shop

Cocoa Beach shop

Stack of 'floaties' waiting for the children


The red flag was flying on the beach to warn of the unstable swimming conditions and young families were riding their bikes in formation.


Red flag at beach warning of swimming conditions


Family on bikes in Atlantic seaside town


But wait a minute — where were we??? Did that pink neon sign say La Croquandise??? And what does gaufres mean??? I found out later that it meant waffles! And being very European, we could have put some glacé (ice cream) on those waffles. Yum!


Food stall in Mimizan


We weren’t in a seaside town on the Atlantic Ocean in Florida no matter how familiar it all seemed. We were in a seaside town on the Atlantic Ocean in France — in Mimizan to be specific. The colour palette was more gray than blue since it was coldish and overcast on and off for our two days — definitely jeans and a fleece jacket time instead of shorts.

The architecture was even similar to Florida’s beachside communities — high-rise apartments hugging the intercoastal canals and generic concrete-rendered houses with red tile roofs. We found a basic and rather old-fashioned hotel a mere one block from the roaring ocean which we could hear through our sliding glass balcony doors.


Intercoastal apartments in Mimizan

Houses on canal in Mimizan, France

Le Plaisance Hotel in Mimizan, France


And speaking of the roaring ocean, our walks down there were rather brief because it was quite cold and windy!


The French coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Mimizan, France


Come back soon for more adventures as we wander and work our way around Europe!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Rambling Around Rotterdam – Part Two

Asking our friend Amalin what the citizens of Rotterdam did on a Sunday afternoon produced an instant response. “They go shopping!” And she certainly wasn’t kidding! Out the door we went, constantly remarking about how visually tantalising everything seemed.

Red tulips and a black cycle

We made our way to the tram after a leisurely brunch, headed into the shopping precinct, and were simply astonished at how clogged the sidewalks and shops were with people. But the area is quite attractive architecturally, there are plenty of places to stop and eat or get a coffee, and there was a happy vibe amongst the people who were out and about in the sunshine.

There are boutique-small and department-store-large places to shop for block after block. One section is a deep slash in the street which leads down to even more shops. The Dutch have a marvelous sense of humour about this particular district. They refer to it as “shopping in the buying gutter.” If you click on the picture, it enlarges so you can see more of the detail. Click again and you will see just how many people are milling around on that upper level!

Rotterdam shopping on a Sunday afternoon

Close-up of flashing tram sign

Flashing signs at tram crossing

The tram system here is utterly delightful and seems to get you just about everywhere you want to go. But you must be aware as you are crossing the tracks that the trams can be ultra-quiet and it would be far too easy to step out in front of one. For that reason, there is a tram crossing sign at the intersections of streets that makes a ding-ding-ding sound to draw your attention and there is also a flashing sign at the corner with a tiny little tram symbol in it. Wonderful!

We have seen no traffic congestion here at any time of day or night. I believe that this directly relates to the availability of public transportation throughout Rotterdam via tram, train, or metro. And there are quite a lot of people who ride their bicycles everywhere! There are dedicated bike lanes, some which also allow motor scooter traffic, and it keeps the number of cars on the road at a minimum compared to most other metropolitan European cities.

And to mention the Dutch sense of humour for a second time, I know of no other place that would have a bronze piece of sculpture in a public street that was an ‘homage’ to a dog and his poo!

Special lane only for bikes and scooters

Dog and poo sculpture

Come back tomorrow and I’ll have Part Three of Rambling Around Rotterdam with lots more pictures!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Rambling Around Rotterdam – Part One

The ship slid quietly through the dark night. There was no rocking or swaying to cause distress in the form of seasickness, but I still had very little sleep. Arriving in Rotterdam for a long weekend, I was excited about being in a new city but subdued from fatigue.

We are staying in a very diverse and attractive neighbourhood on the western-central side of Rotterdam called Coolhaven. It is so conveniently located that we can be in the heart of the city in 10 minutes on the #4 tram.

Cafe in Rotterdam on a Spring day

Day One saw us sitting in a sidewalk cafe/bar, drinking dark beer, and doing a lot of people watching after a brief ramble around town. We chuckled aloud when we saw these racing grannies on motorized carts who went zooming by whilst carrying on a very animated conversation.

Zooming Grannies on a Rotterdam street

Apartment living, whether owned or rented, seems to be the norm here. But there are lovely green spaces that punctuate the city and give you a respite from the acres and acres of bricks and concrete. The one in the picture below is only 3 blocks from the apartment where we are staying in the Coolhaven district with our lovely friend Amalin.

Green park in Coolhaven district of Rotterdam

Tomorrow’s post will show how the typical Rotterdam citizen spends their Sunday. So check back again!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the text and photos on this page. All rights reserved.

Frugal Travel in Expensive Melbourne – Part 3

What to do — what to see. You have arrived in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, so how can you make the best decisions about where to spend your energy and your dollars?

First, wrap your head around the idea that you are going to nibble at the edges of a very LARGE cake full of delights. That will give you some perspective as you begin to realize that you will be coming back to Melbourne again and again before you can begin to say that you ‘know’ the place.

Consider planning your to-do list by going to either of these websites for information prior to your arrival. The first one is the That’s Melbourne site where you can click on the various categories in the left-side column to find out what art, music, festival, sports, or other events in your own particular areas of interest are available during your visit. The second site to check is the What’s On Melbourne Guide which lets you search by DATE or by TOPIC.

You can learn a lot about a city and its ‘vibe’ by people-watching and often this proves to be a highly amusing free activity.

Lunch hour tap dancer on Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Lunch hour tap dancer, Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, Australia

A few days ago as I walked down Bourke Street, I saw a young red-haired man with a backpack and a bright yellow milk crate suddenly stop and plonk a portable tape player down on the pavement. Next a flowerpot appeared. Finally, he carefully placed a square of timber halfway between the tram stop and the steps in front of the GPO building. Without saying a word, he began to tap dance vigorously (and well!) for the lunchtime crowd that was milling around, his flowerpot began to fill with coins, and the silent tap dancer smiled sweetly at everyone. It was a tiny bit of magic on a cold and gloomy day.

Having walked a mere few metres further down the street, I began to chuckle quietly when I saw a faux-concrete mime who had removed his hat, thus revealing part of his un-made-up face and hair beneath. As he stood next to his upturned hat, his hand resting on his cart full of props, he dropped all pretense being in character as he made a phone call. As surreptitiously as I could, I raised my camera and began to take pictures of this unguarded and funny moment.

Mime Making Phone Call

If fine arts and culture are as much ‘your thing’ as they are mine, you will be happy to read that Melbourne is quite blessed to have three art museums that charge absolutely NO admission price. The only exception to that statement is for those blockbuster travelling exhibits from overseas that arrive once a year or so.

The permanent collection at the beautifully proportioned bluestone building housing the NGV International – National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road is quite comprehensive and covers several floors of exhibits that range from the ancient through to the contemporary. You can easily allow yourself a half of a day or more to see it all. And as an added bonus, there are wonderful cafes on both the ground floor and the first floor that serve quite good food. Seating areas are tucked around on every level and are much appreciated by those who wish to enjoy the various galleries at a more leisurely pace. The large gift shop on the ground floor, just before you exit next to the wall of water, is a joy for art lovers, book lovers, or anyone who appreciates finely crafted jewelry, stationary, art objects, and educational toys.

Another entirely free (except for those previously mentioned special exhibitions) museum is the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square (corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street). This smaller museum is dedicated to Australian art. Although it is part of the National Gallery of Victoria, it is housed up the street from the main NGV in a light, airy, and very contemporary glass and steel building set amidst the ultra-modern Federation Square complex.

Finally, there is the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art — ACCA (111 Sturt Street in the Southbank area) and it too is completely free of entry charges. The stated goal of this particular institution is as follows. “It is the only major public art gallery in Australia focused on commissioning rather than collecting.” For that reason, there is a non-stop stream of cutting edge exhibitions to entice those interested in contemporary art.

This three-part article on frugal travel in Melbourne has barely scratched the surface of your options for places to stay, places to eat, sights to see, or walks to enjoy. My intention was to allow the reader to fine-tune their trip according to their interests and needs. I also hoped to let you understand that absorbing the media’s ongoing statement that Melbourne is one of the world’s most expensive cities comes at a cost. It closes people’s minds to the alternatives to big-price-ticket travel — alternatives called frugal travel, budget travel, manageable travel that keep those dollars in your pocket to spend as you choose, not as you must if you are booked into 5 star hotels and are only eating at 5 star restaurants. Frugal travel makes the world a better place for all of us because it gives us freedom and choice.