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September 12, 2015 / oneworld82

London, the lavender fields of Luberon, and some family time in Italy

Once landed we cleared immigration quickly thanks to my Italian passport and we then headed to the Piccadilly Line to get to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum. European airports are overall very well connected to the cities they serve, as opposed as many airports in the US. That is a big plus of course, even though sometimes can be extenuating (and expensive) to take the (in this case) Tube.

The hotel was very nice – Holiday Inns in Europe (and Crowne Plaza) are generally 3-and-half star hotels. The room was spacious (for being London), the shower water pressure was good, the temperature was a bit on the warm side. Our rate came with access to the executive lounge, which offered a sufficient array of items for breakfast and decent hors d’oeuvre between 6pm and 8pm with complimentary drinks throughout. Not a bad perk!

After working for a few hours we set out to explore London a bit together. St James’s park was absolutely beautiful in summertime, and it was fantastic strolling about in the park. After that it was Westminster Abbey, then the Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, then down to Embankment (with a stop at a local pub for a much-needed beer!) and on to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. The dazzling lights, the ocean of humanity on the streets, the balmy summer weather made the City look particularly beautiful in this week of mid-July!

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After a short stop in Covent Garden we headed to Mayfair at the Windmill Restaurant, gloriously famous for its meat pies. I was particularly excited to try the steak and kidney pie (with mushy peas, of course!), as that pie has been voted national champion three times. As a less adventurous eater, Thuy went for a chorizo pie. Both were outstanding, and reminded me of why they are so famous and cherished across Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand (in fact, I started loving meat pies during my first visit to OZ back in 2012).

Steak and kidney pie

Steak and kidney pie

Mushy pea

Mushy pea

Chorizo and chicken pie

Chorizo and chicken pie

Day 2 of the trip saw me at the office, while Thuy (for the first time in London) explored the city on a hop on-hop off bus. I have to admire her: she was 15 weeks pregnant, and yet ready to travel and enjoy London. Kudos to you, dear!

At night we headed to Paddington to one of the oldest pubs in town – Victoria. My aim: trying one of the city’s most famous Scotch Eggs. The place was very lively, old-school: fascinating in every aspect. The scotch egg was a winner, as were Thuy’s gnocchi.

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The next day, after work we met at Heathrow to continue our trip. Destination: Marseille. After a quick lunch/dinner at Yo! Sushi at LHR T3 we boarded our British Airways flight to MRS. I had found only two award tickets for this flight, one in business and one in coach. I left the business seat to my wife (of course), and I sat in a middle seat in coach in row 7.

The flight was fairly packed, and in two, quick hours we were in Provence. Kudos to BA for their snack service on such a short flight, consisting of a small sandwich and an iced sweet roll that was rather delicious. Thuy was very satisfied with the catering in business class – a nice chicken and cous-cous dish plus some (not-so) nice dessert. Again, not bad for a two hour hop.

After landing we headed to the Hertz counter to pick up our rental, as we were planning to drive across the Luberon region to see the Lavender fields. Luck decided we got a Fiat 500 – I was very happy about that!

We drove for about a hour to Manosque, and we spent the night at a sketchy-looking (but overall fine and very clean) motel near the highway (Fasthotel Relais Manosque), at the main intersection on the road to Valensole, our destination for the day after.

We woke up relatively early and by 8.30am we were on the lavender fields near Valensole. What a sight these fields are. Imagine vast – almost endless – purple rolling hills dotted my sunflower fields. The smell is intense, the buzzing of bees unmistakable. This region is rightly famous Worldwide, as during July it’s so pretty to look almost unreal.

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We stopped in Valensole for breakfast – pain au chocolat, lavender éclair, ham and cheese croissant – before heading to the Gorges du Verdon, driving through more lavender fields (so amazing!).

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The Gorges du Verdon are another incredible natural wonder. The deepest canyon in Europe with some 700-odd meters escarpments, the gorges offer an incredible opportunity for white-water rafting, kayaking, hiking, fishing… The drive along the canyon is majestic, but spending 2-3 days here and around Lake St Croix is the best way to explore this little corner of Heaven.

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We kept pushing south and we stopped for lunch in Draguignan. I said it before and I repeat it now: Europe’s beauty lies in small towns: Valensole was a little, well-preserved gem. Draguignan was bigger, but still very nice, with it’s well-maintained city centre and centuries-old church.

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After hitting the highway we drove towards the Cote d’Azur, and we had a quick drive-through La Croisette in Cannes (packed with tourists and cruise ships) and Juan-Les-Pins before returning our rental car in Nice and meeting up with my father at the NCE airport.

It’s of course always nice to see my family – especially when I get to see it only once or twice a year. The Italian Riviera was particularly warm (the hottest July in 134 years on record, apparently), and we did nothing else but sleeping and spending time at the beach for the next three days, with some good dinners in between. Ventimiglia’s beach is rocky, with pebbles everywhere. Still it is nice and comfortable enough. The water was cleaner than I remembered, and definitely warmer than I recalled. It was a good time, albeit hot.

We did enjoy – as usual – some great food – including an amazing I-don’t-even-remember-how-many-courses dinner at Byblos Restaurant in Ospedaletti, a quaint resort town not too far from Ventimiglia. Here are some photos of that royal dinner.IMG_0057 IMG_0058 IMG_0059 IMG_0060

Family time is always fun, too – especially if it comes with some great Italian pizza.

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We only spent a couple of days with the family, and then it was already time to come back to New York for work. Iberia Business Class would be our means of transportation.

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