Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This is the final post of our BLOG for our Provence trip. This morning, I took our trusty coffee grinder out and ground up the coffee we purchased from the little Torrefacteur Vieux-Nice shop, Cafes Indien, just a few steps down the Rue Droite from our apartment in Nice. After all the effort to locate a grinder in Nice, this morning was sort of anti-climatic.

In spite of flight attendant strikes, volcanic ash eruptions and rail strikes, we made it home on time. Leaving the sunny Mediterranean for rainy Washington was not easy, but necessary to provide for future travel opportunities.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ville Vieux

Today, the weather is wonderful, the storm is over, the sun is out and all is right with the world (except for Thailand and a few other problem spots around the world). This morning we walked into the old town to visit the market, it is such a wonderful place, full of aromas, beautiful flowers, produce, cheeses, spices and baked goods. We purchased some local olive oil, flavored spices and salt to bring back with us. People are on the beach, strolling the promenade, skating, riding bicycles and the Japanese tourists are photographing everything. We are doing our best to try every wine from Provence but failing miserably, just too many options! Tomorrow, on the spur of the moment, we decided to visit the Frejus Faire, a fair that has been going on for over 400 hundred years, provided there are no rail worker strikes we should have a wonderful day in an ancient town about one hour from here by train.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Last night we were awakened by the wind blowing against the windows, and the waves crashing on the beach. There are two very large French doors (what else?)with side windows that are the full height and width of our apartment, so there is quite a nice view outside to the promenade and beach. But with a strong wind there is a bit of rattling, outside these windows a full metal door can be operated to protect the windows in the event of a very strong wind, so we debated if we should close this metal shutter or hope for the best. Being too lazy to get up, we opted for hoping the windows would not blow in and cover us with shattered glass shards, possibly lethal. The winds have abated through the morning to about 20 mph from somewhere about 40-50 mph last night. Since we are not covered with glass shards, I think we made the right decision. The Mediterranean does not have tides, so it is interesting to see the wind whipped breakers hitting the beach. On most days, no matter the weather, there are people on the beach and in the water, not so today. Earlier, we watched a cruise ship preparing to dock, but it cruised off and returned in about one hour after the wind had died down. Although the wind is abating, the surf continues to pound the beach and probably will for the rest of the day. We planned to walk into the old town this morning but will postpone that until later today. If you are interested in seeing where we are, I am attaching a link to the live Nice webcam. http://www.webcamgalore.com/EN/webcam/France/Nice/99.html if you open this site and click on the 'Visit Webcam' then on the box in the upper right hand corner, Plage Sud Ouest, then Grand Format, it will show the area where we are staying. In the live feed on the far left side of the camera, there is a tall building with blue glass panels, continue looking to the left and the last building on the left side is our building, 6 floors, 101 steps up from the ground level.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


This morning we walked along the Promenade Des Anglais to the old town where we stayed the first few weeks. It was a nice stroll in the morning with the temperature perfect, A little wind and just a few folks on the beach. The sky was full of airplane contrails following the opening of European airspace. We have a view of the airport runway from our balcony and the last few days was eerily quiet, but late yesterday, and this morning lots of activity as the planes scrambled to get back into the air.
After being here for some time and becoming adjusted to the French, and their ways (actually becoming quite good at the French language)we have come to the conclusion that two laws regarding pollution that should be passed. The first is to require the French to pick up after their dogs, while walking the streets, it is certainly a good idea to watch where one walks. I think the French as so used to having someone clean the streets that they feel no responsibility to clean up after their dogs, even though there are free bags and disposal stations. The second law would establish a commission to judge and control the freedom to remove certain clothes while one the beach, this of course would be aimed at eliminating visual pollution; sometimes it is better to cover up more to avoid offending the passerby's eyes.
But back to the old city. The market is just wonderful, the flowers fresh produce, fish, dried mushrooms of every variety; spices are inexpensive and very fresh. We purchased fresh, sun dried tomatoes that are stacked high on a table and in a pile instead of little jars, and fresh spices by the kilo scooped up from open containers, we will really miss this part of Nice. The food is fresh, tasty, inexpensive and plentiful, there is so much variety, the bread is baked each morning, fresh cheeses in an incredible variety are also available along with every kind of smelly fish, and crustacean. I missed a great opportunity for a photo a few weeks ago as we walked to the market, a man with snorkel gear was walking up the street with an octopus; we have watched the local fish monger strip the ink from octopus, and every kind of weird fish is also available including the pontine that are a slimy gelatinous mass (a delicacy, of course) along with escagot for sale. Tomorrow we may go back to the market for a few photos, and the walk, of course, about 2 1/2 miles one way. Did I mention that I killed the ants? Almost forgot, but we had a few ants in the apartment so I went to Bricora, the local hardware store and found some ant killer, it worked quite well, no sign of the little critters this morning. I went back to the Bricora this morning looking for a small scale to weigh our luggage, I fear with all the purchases that we will either have to leave all our clothes here or purchase a third suitcase just to get everything home.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My side of the story.....

If you read the below post of Michael's, then you see his love of history were as I look at the more human side of our adventures.

He makes the A8 Autoroute sound so great.......

We were in a car no larger than a large stroller......I was in charge of the 20' x 20' folding map (which is now shredded). As we are driving along at over 80 mph going in and out of traffic, he wants to know 'where are we!' Then we drive through the cities on these tiny roads and he wants to know where to turn! Meanwhile, its my job to tell him where we are, where we need to turn, if a car is entering from the right (they have the right away, priote au droite) if there is a light ahead so he knows whether to stop or not! I packed light for this little road trip but should have left everything at the apt except for wine......did I mention the man learned to drive a 3 speed on a DeSoto (HONESTLY)!!! I use to own a Miata which I'm sure shifts much like this small stroller we were in....I tried (nicely) to explain to him that you gently place the car into gear and that jamming it hard into gear even the right one, does not work......I'm surprised our transmission was still with us!

Then he decided to take a "scenic" drive through Cannes.....all I remember was all the honking when he ran the red light!

I find that French has not been that difficult to learn. Warning, when I return home I may be cheek kissing everyone and saying Bonjour for a few days! I'll try to adjust.

Yes, we have both had our moments being together ALL THE TIME and work sounds nice at times....well maybe once or twice, maybe after I tan a while longer on the veranda overlooking the Meditteranean and watching the boats and sunbathers while Michael prepares lunch....I may feel a bit different about it!

I understand that the volcano erupted again. I guess it's another sign that we may be stuck here for a while even though we have managed the British Airways Strike and the SCNF Train strike (being stuck in Monaco wasn't a bad place to be stuck!)

I have bought so many things here that I will be leaving my clothes for the homeless so I have room for my treasures!


Ash & car Travel

Today, Tuesday, there were hopes the volcanic ash would be less of a danger and air travel would resume, but new eruptions threw a monkey wrench into that plan. We are waiting and hoping the skies will open up and let us come home in one week.
We just returned from a road trip through Provence by rental car. Miss Barbara was a bit concerned about my driving because of the congestion, crazy motorcyclists, and the bizillion cars all over everywhere. All valid concerns! But, we forged ahead and rented the car from the airport which is about 3 miles from our apartment, then took off on the A8 Autoroute which is very similar to the US freeways, except better and also a toll road. Travel on the A8 is easy, the road is nicely maintained, well marked and fast with an average speed of 110 to 130 kmh, or about 68 to 81 mph. We drove from Nice to Avignon in less than 2 hours at a cost of 20 Euros. Our car was a compact diesel Renault which sped along quite nicely and was not so small as some cars on the road. We took a side road thorough the French countryside through Cavillion, into the mountains through Gordes to the Abbaye Senanque. You have probably seen photos of the Abbaye with long rows of lavender in bloom but we were a little early for the lavender, probably a good thing since it would have been mobbed with tourists! Provence is a major perfume producer so there are many farms growing flowers, herbs and spices. Gordes is a village perched on the top of a mountain with houses built into the side of the cliff, quite beautiful. Our next stop was Avignon, and the Palais des Papes, a sort of mini Vatican on the Rhone river, which was a medieval fortress city built by the Popes to escape the wars in Rome built between 1309 and 1377. The old city is still surrounded by walls and the Palais is quite remarkable condition. The popes had imported many of the great painters of the period to decorate the palace, but most of the frescoes and other art works have been lost to time. We found an Etap hotel after surviving driving through the narrow streets. This hotel was fairly new, 54 Euros a night which is on the cheap side, but clean and modern. The amenities were meager and the room was odd in that it had a queen bed with a bunk bed above (the colors were bright pink and gray, odd). Only two towels were provided, no phone and two very small bars of soap. But it was clean! On Sunday morning we drove to Orange, again through the French countryside, lots of vineyards, fruit trees, and small towns. The fields are lush and green, while the grape vines are just starting to sprout. Did I mention that we tried to sample wines from each area we were in?
Orange is a wonderful mid size town with Roman origins dating back to BC. Although mainly known for the Theatre Antique d'Orange, still in use today, the best preserved of the entire Roman empire in Europe. The town is also known for the Orange dynasty where William of Orange and the Dutch Royal family started. Next stop Pont du Gard to see the tallest of all Roman aqueducts, part of an engineering project to bring water 31 miles from Uzes to Nimes, very impressive engineering for 19BC, the large stone blocks fit so perfectly no mortar was required.
This is also the picture used on the 5 euros. Next we drove to Nimes, another ancient Roman city with well preserved arena still used for bull fighting. Nimes is where the blue fabric known as denim is from De Nimes! We had planned to stay in Nimes but the traffic on a Sunday afternoon was very crazy, no place to park, a bizillion tourists all over, so we escaped and headed for Arles. Arles is another ancient Roman town with the obligatory theatre and arena, both still used today. Arles is very close to the Camargue, one of Europe's major wetlands, home to bull, and cattle ranching, and the local cowboys. We spent the night is a nice older hotel with a phone and more than two towels, and a very nice lady who ran the place. As always we took off walking to see the sights, and to purchase more refrigerator magnets. From Arles, we took the local roads to Tarascon, home of the legendary man eater the Tarasque, reputed to be an armadillo with a lions head. At some time St. Martha killed the Tarasque and brought peace to the world. In Tarascon, the fairy tale castle of the good King Rene can be visited (for a fee). One of the feudal castles that dots the Rhone River, built in the 15th century, and surrounded by a moat, is quite impressive. The good King promoted peace, encouraged art and culture. Next stop St Remy-de-Provence, another small town with a Greco-Roman heritage, but mostly known as the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh spent some time after mutilating his ear. You can still walk the paths near the asylum where Van Gogh painted many of his famous pictures, and recognize the landscapes. From St Remy we drove through more of the French countryside towards Aix en Provence and then back to Nice. Feeling very confident about driving, we decided to take the local roads from Cannes along the coast back to Nice. I had always pictured the coast towns such as Cannes, Antibes, Beauliue Sur Mer as picturesque villages dotted along the coast, but the reality is the entire Cote D,Azure is one long inhabited area with lots of people and traffic. A lot of traffic, in small congested roads and motorcyclists riding in between the cars, racing to the next stop light; heaven forbid you should tarry at the stop light, the French love their horns! But, we made it back safe, no scratches on the car, Barbara needed a glass of wine to calm her nerves, but otherwise a great trip. (It was no wonder, Michael ran a red light in Cannes!)Not true, I stopped then carefully proceeded through the light after the honking started.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Yesterday evening we returned from Barcelona, Spain, what a great adventure! Not just because we did not get robbed (Barcelona is reputed to be a great place to lose your money)but because we really enjoyed the City. As usual, we walked about 20 miles from one end to the other and took in the sights. Barcelona is a wonderful, Old World City, full of history dating back thousands of years. Everything from the Romans to Ferdinand & Isabella, Columbus, The Spanish Inquisition, Spanish Civil War, the explosion of art and Moderneisme. In my life, I have seen many structures, great engineering feats such as the Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, the Roman Coliseum, the baths at Caracala, Pompeii, Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, wonderful works of art such as the Mona Lisa, David's Napoleon, the Birth of Venus, by Botticelli, and so forth. But I must say, and it is hard to find words adequate to describe the genius of Antoni Gaudi, truly one of the great geniuses of the 19th century! While Gaudi is best known for his masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, which after 140 years is still under construction, to look at his early works such as la Pederera, or Casa Batillo is to look into a mind so unique, so brilliant, that words fail to properly describe his accomplishments. I have seen many photos of his work, and have felt the results to be cluttered, over designed, complicated and somehow not relevant to art, architecture, or engineering. But after seeing these monuments in person, I can only say the photos are a shabby representation of the real thing. I have posted a couple of photos of La Pederera that Barb took, , considering this was built in the 1800's it is so modern and refreshing. Normal designers use a round stove pipe for a chimney flue, Gaudi designed a chimney pot so unusual that I suspect Darth Vader's helmet is taken from this design. Rather than blather on about his accomplishments, I have attached a link to Wikipedia, but just for fun I suggest you take some time and explore this man's work, if you ever have a chance to visit Barcelona, don't miss his accomplishments.