Flashpackers really do have Champagne tastes

We couchsurfed with Patrick and his family for a weekend. Although it was pretty much just with Patrick since only one of his three sons was home (and he was depressed over a girl so spent most of his time in his room playing guitar and listening to heavy metal), and his wife Pascale was at a craft fair all weekend.

Patrick made great home made bread and treated us to wonderful home cooked meals. He also turned us on to many wonderful French cheeses (other than Brie).

The reason I wanted to visit Champagne in the first place? For the champagne of course! They make sparkling wine all over the world – but they only make champagne in Champagne.

Champagne grapes!

Flashpacking Wife hugging the grapes in Champagne

Champagne is a beautiful region – driving along the windy country roads through all the vineyards, stopping to visit the church where Dom Perignon lived (and is now buried), admiring the sweeping views of distant villages among the rows and rows of purple and green – it is simply awesome.

Sign near Dom Perignon’s grave

Dom Perignon’s grave marker

Champagne region

We also visited the Notre Dame in Reims (I told you all the cathedrals in France were named Notre Dame!)

Notre Dame, Reims, France reflection from the library

They have lots of champagne houses (obviously!) in Champagne. A visit to one (tour with a glass of champagne at the end) costs 10 Euros. Otherwise, I would have tried to visit every single one of them! We went to Taittinger, where we learned all about how many hectares of grapes they own (a lot!), how they make champagne, how long they age it for and how tasty their bubbly is.

Curtis and Lindsie at Taittinger


Thousands of champagne bottles at Taittinger

Lindsie, Patrick & Curtis at Taittinger

Besides everything to do with champagne, we also visited a photo exhibit called Earth From the Air. We saw this exhibit in Bangkok as well – I recognized many of the photos but there were also some new ones. If this exhibit is ever showing at a city near you, I highly recommend going to see it. Here are a couple of photos of photos that I took. Amazing how real they look.

Photo of photo - where the two Buddhas used to be. Blown up by the Taliban.

photo of photo - Earth from the air

Next up after Champagne? Beaune! One of my all time favorite places in the entire world! Stay tuned….

Paris – ah, Paris!

You can’t help but be excited about Paris – at least I couldn’t.

Lindsie at the Sacre-Coeur

Paris is one of those cities that captures the imagination. Just like New York, Paris is portrayed in films so often you feel like you know it before you’ve even arrived.

We both expected that we’d fall in love with Paris immediately. I imagined being able to gaze up at the Eiffel Tower while sipping coffee at a cafe (any cafe – because in my imagination the Eiffel Tower could be seen towering over the city from anywhere), watching well dressed Parisians stroll by.

This was not so. Not only were the fashions disappointing (although to be fair, half the people we saw were probably tourists and not actual Parisians), but we had to walk forever along the Seine before we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Once we did though, we were hooked.

Lindsie at the Eiffel Tower

Drawn towards it, we walked until our feet hurt. Waiting in the queue for tickets, darkness began to fall. There are three observation levels to choose from so of course we were going to go to the very top one (at 276 meters high) but just before we bought our tickets, they closed the upper deck so we were forced to be content with the view from the second deck. Which, at 115 meters, was high enough for Curtis.

While it was exciting to be on the Eiffel Tower, the hordes of people up there with us really detracted from the romance. It was much more romantic to admire the twinkling light show of the Tower from a distance as a misty rain fell.

The Eiffel Tower at night

A much better way to view the city (and the Eiffel Tower itself) is from the Tour Montparnasse. It’s a very tall modern looking building, not interesting to look at, but it has a roof top observation deck without the crowds. It’s a much more relaxing, pleasant way to look down on Paris.

View from the Tour Montparnasse

View of the Eiffel Tower

We rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter for the week, which I found on Craigslist a few months ago while waiting out a storm in Cambodia. It turned out to be a cute, simple bachelor pad type place where the sofa converts into a bed and the “kitchen” is separated from the living room/bedroom via a curtain. The price was right, the location was excellent (steps away from the freshest baguettes and pain au chocolat as well as the metro) and it had a washing machine. When you’re traveling for so long, a washing machine is an exciting luxury. If anyone is looking for a self catering, safe apartment to rent in Paris, let me know and I’ll give you the owner’s email address.

When we were in Singapore, we were interviewed by a journalist from the Canadian Press who was doing an article on flashpacking. When she asked us for a photo “in an exotic location” to go along with the story, we knew Paris would be just the place. Since it was too far for them to send a photographer, we asked a nice shopkeeper to take a few of us outside of a cafe with our laptops. I think she did a great job! To check out the article click here .

Flashpackers in Paris

Continuing on with our tour of Paris – the Louvre is one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen. The sheer size of it is unbelievable. It stretches for many miles and is so ornate and beautiful.

Outside of the Louvre

The art inside however, I found rather boring. It felt like corridor after corridor of the same painting – there were just so many similar paintings from the same era, that they began to blur together and I couldn’t wait to get past them and see the piece de resistance. The Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa is protected by an armed guard and now sits behind glass after some bozo made an attempt to deface it years ago. The Mona Lisa was definitely worth suffering through all the boring religious era art.

The art in the Musee D’Orssay though, is anything but boring. I loved it! It was filled with paintings I could look at for hours. Some of my faves:

Gustave Caillebotte painting done in 1875

Flashpacking Wife with a Monet

Van Gogh

I met a young Canadian couple near the Van Goghs that I spoke to for about half an hour. Trading travel stories, it felt so good to speak to someone in English, especially people from “home” (they were from Ontario – but close enough!). Even though most of the Parisians we had encountered spoke English, it had been awhile since I’d had an actual conversation with anyone other than Curtis – and I had been there for all of his travel stories.

Sacre Ceour viewed from the Tour Montparnasse

The Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) was one of my favorite places. There was a narrow winding staircase to the top of the dome. So narrow and windy in fact that it made us dizzy. The view was amazing of course, but it was the building itself that felt as beautiful as it looked. I couldn’t help but feel a serene happiness – maybe Paris was finally getting to me and seeping into my veins. Or maybe I was just enjoying the moment. Whatever it was, the Sacre Coeur will hold a special place in my heart.

Flashpacking Wife on the Sacre Ceour

Sacre Ceour

Sacre Ceour

One day we made a pilgrimage to visit the gravesite of Jim Morrison. Curtis was disappointed that we couldn’t pay our respects in private. His was the only site with a fence around it and with a guard. The crowd was just big enough to make us feel like part of something dirty instead of something special. I stood in the shade, away from the crowd, and watched a cat sun himself on someone else’s grave. It seemed apropos somehow.

It might seem strange to visit grave sites, but the cemetaries in France are amazing – and filled with famous people. We also saw the graves of Chopin and Oscar Wilde.

Chopin’s grave

I loved all the parks in Paris – we would often picnic in them. A baguette with brie and some fruit, along with a cold beer or a small bottle of wine, became the perfect lunch. I’m not sure how legal it is to drink in public but saw so many people doing it that we assumed it was okay. A picnic really does taste better with a little red wine or a chilled Kronenbourg.

Curtis with a bronze statue at the Palais de Luxenbourg

The Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and honours those who fought for France. Apparently the best time to view it is at sunrise but close to sunset wasn’t so bad either.

Arc de Triomphe

What I loved best about Paris was just wandering around. Sometimes we spotted the most unusual window displays that made us laugh – like this one that used dogs to model their hats and jackets.

window display in Paris

And others that made us drool – like this one of the giant chocolate pencils.

Chocolate pencils

It may not have been love at first sight, but Paris definitely had it’s way with us and in the end, we were seduced by it’s charms. We’ll definitely be back for more.

Strasbourg, France

On the loooong flight from Singapore to Frankfurt, we fly over Afghanistan (according to the route map – so if it wasn’t Afghanistan, it was awfully close).

Somewhere over Afghanistan

We spend one night in Frankfurt (at Motel One, which I fully recommend. FYI – they’ve got a free shuttle service from the airport. Unfortunately, we found out too late. It’s a new service and one will that will save you 16 Euros in cab fare.)

The next day, with the help of some very friendly Germans, we make our way via bus and tram to the train station. We settle in for our first European train ride and comment on how comfortable the seats are just as a porter offers us a newspaper and asks if we’d like to order anything from the on board cafe. Several minutes later we realize we are in first class with our second class tickets. The tickets are in German, which makes them difficult for us to read (thanks for nothing to both of our German mothers – who neglected to teach us their mother tongue). We have since figured out that the rail tickets will tell you which car number you are in, usually along with assigned seat numbers, but, not realizing that yet, we boarded the wrong car.

Walking through the narrow aisles of a swaying train with all of our bags, through multiple first class cars, the restaurant car and into the second class section, narrowly avoiding getting pitched into the lap of an old man, we find our seats.

And two hours later we are in France!

Our introduction to France starts in Strasbourg, which is in the Alsace region.

We immediately fall in love with Strasbourg – it’s cobbled streets, colorful old buildings, flower boxing blooming over every balcony.

Lindsie in Strasbourg

Buildings in Strasbourg

We are couchsurfing with Pedro and Lenka who couldn’t be more welcoming if they tried. They traveled for 10 months themselves and recently got married, so we have a lot in common. We trade travel (and wedding) stories – laughing at some of the similar experiences we’ve had, especially as blondes in Asia (Lenka and I).

They introduce us to the local wine, beer and culinary delights and we have so much fun with them during our three day stay.

Our first dinner in France

Sometimes, a little too much fun…

Curtis and Pedro with the Giraffe

We spend our days wandering the quaint cobblestone streets, take a boat tour of the city along the canal, discover such culinary delights as the Alsatian salad (a little bit of lettuce and a whole lotta cheese and sausage), sip cafe au laits at sidewalk cafes and take in the beauty of the Notre Dame cathedral (there are Notre Dame cathedrals in almost every city here – I thought there was just one – which is probably a North American misconception).

Notre Dame - Strasbourg

We spend our evenings eating, drinking and laughing with Pedro and Lenka and their friends. None of them are actually French – they are all from other European countries – but they all speak it of course. Most of them speak many languages (which we find very impressive) and which also shows another big difference between European and North American cultures.

When it’s time to leave, we do so reluctantly. So reluctantly in fact that we barely make our train…we are literally running through the station with Pedro, Lenka and Lucy (Lenka’s sister) with mere minutes to spare.

Couchsurfing with Pedro and Lenka

As we wave goodbye, I feel like we are leaving old friends.

We settle in for our fast train (speeds up to 320 kms!) to Paris.

Singapore – Short and Sweet

We catch our last glimpses of Sydney as we take off and head for three nights in Singapore.





We’re doing our second couch surf in Singapore with a really nice couple in their fabulous pad. Irvin and Eunice live in a new apartment complex that has a huge outdoor pool, tennis courts, gym, gardens and bbq areas. I wish Vancouver weather could support a pool like this! They even have swimming lessons for the kids!


Irvin and Eunice don’t have a lot of time to spend with us as they are busy preparing for their upcoming wedding but we do manage to connect one evening for an absolute feast.

Couchsurfing with Irvin and Eunice

They introduce us to all sorts of delicious delights. We have laksa which is rice noodles in spicy coconut gravy, bbq stingray in sambal chilli and onions sprinkled with lime, char kuay teow which are flat rice noodles fried in soya sauce with cockles and chinese sausage, hokkien mee (egg noodles fried with bean sprouts in a thick prawn broth), an oyster omelette, otah which is spice and fish paste grilled in a banana leaf, satay in peanut gravy, and grated steamed white radish fried in dark soya sauce which they call carrot cake. And we wash it all down with sugar cane juice. Dee-lish!

Feast in Singapore

Besides the delicious culinary wonders, we don’t get up to anything exciting. We spend one day exploring this incredibly clean city (where chewing gum and firecrackers are banned).

We make it to a mall (what a surprise!) in the hunt for cheap jeans (our last chance before we leave Asia) and to Chinatown. Curtis loves those spicy fish balls.

It’s hot – we’re back to the Southeast Asia humidity – so look for a cool drink. I opt for bottled water (even though you can actually drink the tap water here, which is nice) and Curtis orders a sour plum drink. I try a sip – and stick with my water – its sour alright.

We’re impressed with the transit system here. You use prepaid cards on the buses that you swipe when you get on and off and your fare is calculated according to how far you traveled. They have a flat screen tv on the bus, which I would find annoying during a morning commute, but it’s showing the Olympics so we’re riveted to the screen.

During our brief stay, Singapore wins the silver medal for table tennis. This ends their 48 year medal drought – we can feel the excitement!

Our stay is short and sweet and pretty soon we’re on our way back to the airport for our twelve hour flight to Frankfurt. Six months in Europe coming up!