I just read this and it was like reading something out of a science fiction novel but it is actually HAPPENING. Blew me away.
First, a correction – the picture of Tim and Ariane’s house was NOT their house – it was the neighbours – and second the picture of Ariane by the canal was definitely not of her. I was posting late at night, in the dark, with bad eyes. Oops – so sorry Ariane!
Our last day in Holland was spent visiting a white asparagus farm, then of course EATING the asparagus- with lots of butter! relaxing and enjoying our hosts’ company.
The trip back was long but uneventful – I watched 4 movies (Crazy Heart – good story of redemption, Leap Year – silly romantic comedy, Sunshine Cleaning – really good movie about 2 sisters starting a business cleaning up after crime scenes, and The Invention of Lying – hilarious!) and then wow – we were already home.
After the insanely loonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggg walk to Customs – what were they thinking???? People are on a flight for 9, 10, 12 hours and then have to walk for 2 miles, get interrogated about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, why they’ve been doing it, did they buy anything illegal?? are they trying to smuggle children with guns in their suitcases??? God help you if you look remotely middle eastern like the poor guy in front of us!! 3/4 of an hour later (because we always pick the wrong line), we patiently waited for our baggage and once again, the same suitcase that didn’t arrive in Barcelona ALSO didn’t arrive in Calgary. It’s huge and red and has tags all over it so why this is we have no idea. For some reason, KLM likes that suitcase? Or doesn’t, whichever the case may be. I think we’ll be getting a new suitcase for our next adventure.
The girls met us and we asked what they made for dinner, they giggled and we went for dinner at the Cheesecake Cafe – no surprise that it didn’t meet our new standards in food quality but it was great to have family time. We were a little concerned when they told us they’d had a couple of parties but were just grateful that the police weren’t called and they’d cleaned the house (well I was anyway – Scott, not so much). Arrived home to a surprise from Mike (thanks Mike) – no, we weren’t gnomed but the scarecrows were a nice replacement. Scott was NOT amused and is plotting his revenge…something about toilets and concrete…
Anyway, we had the BEST trip of our lives! and are missing Europe already. What we loved most? The food & coffee & wine, the outdoor cafes, beautiful views and ancient architecture, and the proximity to everything. What we didn’t like? Hmmmm….NOTHING. Everything we had issues with was due to our own lack of research, experience and standards.
We’re so spoiled now that it’s a huge adjustment being home – but we’ll adjust one of these days and somehow manage until our next adventure…coming SOON we hope!
Until then check out my new blog – The Life of Barb –http://barbslife.wordpress.com/ not the cleverest title but hey, it’s 4:o0 am and my jet-lagged brain isn’t functioning so well.
and meanwhile, a few more pics…
We’ve been here since Sunday now and are feeling (well I am anyway but I think Scott too) completely at home. That’s because our hosts are the best! But don’t worry – we WILL be going home soon in case you were worried we’d never leave.
Here is their REAL house and garden:
So where did I leave off? Barcelona – that’s it. A little disoriented Sunday morning – I woke up literally not knowing where we were for a few minutes. We spent a total of an hour getting ready in our sumptous room and then left for the airport at 8:30 for our 12:10 flight. Can you believe that we JUST made it?? The GPS led us astray AGAIN and we circled the mall a few times (6!!) before Scott finally relied on his own instincts to get us to the highway to the airport. Then he turned the “thing” back on and it took us to the wrong terminal by which time Scott was apoplectic (one of these days he’s going to burst something). The Hertz people said sorry – you’re at the wrong terminal and he had no choice, NONE, he HAD to get back in that car ONE more time. I said turn that (bleeping) thing off and just read the SIGNS!! (Ok Lisa, you may have had a point about GPS’s.) ANYWAY, slowly and carefully reading the signs we arrived!! and after dropping the car, Scott was happier than a skinless man having a cold glass of beer after crawling through the desert for a month with dung beetles stuck to his…ok, maybe not that happy – but close. We’d driven 2600 kms altogether – during which I got play by play commentary on driving with the LUNATIC Italians (don’t they know what the center line is for? get off my *#! you crazy Italian !@&$! What’s “50 – In Casa Di Nebbia” mean? every single time we went over a bridge -and there were a LOT of bridges!!! turns out it means “slow to 50 in case of FOG” like they actually WOULD??), and the crazy French – who didn’t seem nearly so crazy after the Italians. Spanish driving seemed to meet his standards. But, all’s well that end’s well right? We’re still alive to tell yet another tale. In other words, I didn’t murder Scott to shut him up and he didn’t subsequently fall off the road and into the Mediterranean.
The flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam was delayed (of course they never tell you that until you’re strapped into your seat with the doors locked) so we arrived at Schipol a little late, dropped half our luggage in a storage locker, and hopped on a train to s’Hertengobosch (I dare you to pronounce it! It’s Den Bos to residents around here) and were met by Olivier – who grew at LEAST a FOOT since the last time I saw him but was still just as cheeky. Then we were picked up by Tim – not looking ANY older at all – no fair! Then a short drive to Vught and Ariane who came out of the door with a huge smile and arms wide open (also not looking any older) and Porthos and Jane the adorable beagles. (Porthos is lovely but Jane I would take home with me if I could. As IF Ariane would ever let me!) What a welcome! SO good to see everyone again!!
Since then it’s been a whirlwind of apple tart & coffee (I don’t think 2 weeks on Jenny’s going to do it), good food & wine, family and sights. Sunday was a nice family visit with just Tim, Ariane and Olivier, and Monday Hans came for lunch and he and Tim went to the bar to watch Holland play in the World Cup. Everyone here went NUTS when they won the match. NO ONE in Holland appeared to be working.
Monday night Ariane and Tim organized a GREAT family reunion. I have met ALL of our cousins now – it was a very special night for me. I loved seeing Oom Eddy, Fred and Annelise and Fleur and meeting Jan Willem (the man who tamed Fleur – never thought it was possible ) and their SWEET baby Elodie. They’re coming to Canada next year hopefully!
It wasn’t a big surprise that Tim’s brothers Bob and Its (short for Fritz) were relatively (haha – get it?) normal too – at least more normal than our wacky family! Right Hans? They know MUCH more about us than we do about them now – next time it’s their turn to spill their secrets. Although they keep saying they don’t have any?? Hmmmm…it can’t be ONLY the Canadian branch of the family?? No, it’s the international branch too wink wink. Speaking of, Marianne & Reinier – sorry we are missing you next week! Maybe we’ll have to try again next year? Tim says the next reunion should be in Vancouver – I agree and we think Hans should organize it.
Yesterday, Scott kindly stayed home with the dogs while Ariane and I returned Oom Eddy to his lovely and spacious home in Waasenaar (decorated with all the fine things from Kasunga) and met his cute neighbour (girlfriend? hmmmm?) Hansje. As soon as we came in he knocked on her door to let her know he was home. Very soon after she came happily toddling in behind us. He poked around his fridge and found a quiche and then yelled at her (from the kitchen to the dining room 5 feet away) did she have any bread? Off she went, returning with ice cream (which Oom Eddy promptly stole), and apricots and bread to have with the quiche he cooked for us himself. When we left, she was still in HIS apartment but HER door was open so he secretly took us in to see her garden. I only hope to be this cute when Emma & Ali put me in the raisin ranch.
Afterwards, I had the privilege of meeting Ariane’s parents and having a special “made in de Hague ONLY” hazelnut cake – cream, hazelnuts & meringue – yum yum yum and with coffee of course and in their beautiful award-winning garden. That would have been the 3rd coffee of the day. So far. Ariane got a machine for her birthday so we’re drinking buckets of the stuff because it’s just so GOOD! We’ll be in withdrawal as soon as the plane is in the air.
After the visit in de Hague we went to Delft where Tim studied and 27 years ago Tim and Ariane met. It’s a miniature Amsterdam – complete with the churches, fantastic architecture, outdoor cafe’s, beautiful canals and blue and white Delft ceramics.
After MORE cake and coffee, and a long drive and lots of girl talk with Ariane we picked up Tim and his colleague Bertrand from France (who finally taught us how to pronounce “Cagnes” right) and had another great dinner with lots of wine and laughs.
Today, Ariane needed to sing to keep her voice/instrument in shape so Scott and I went off to Amsterdam. Scott wanted to see the red light district (doesn’t everyone??) and no he really didn’t – what he really wanted to do was go and drink beer in Belgium but getting there is too complicated by train. We jumped on a canal boat and then I had some kroeketten (ahhh memories of childhood), and we did in fact find ourselves in THAT district. Oh my. That’s all I have to say about THAT. Scott might have more but I know NOTHING (at least as far as this blog is concerned!!).
We had no more time (that was the super-condensed tour of Amsterdam) so back on the train to Den Bos – except – we got kicked off the train in Utrecht because there was some problem with the track. We got re-routed for Nijsmegen and and then had to transfer. ANOTHER adventure! An hour and a half later, we saw a lot more of Holland than we intended to but then that was kind of nice. Holland IS a very nice country – the people, the countryside, and the happy cows making the nice cheese (which makes ME very happy). Quick change and out to dinner at Fred and Annelise’s who HAPPEN to live in Belgium and just happened to have some Belgian beer! That’s as close as Scott’s getting this time around.
So, now I HAVE to go to bed, Scott’s already snoring. Only 2 more sleeps ’til we’re home again. As at home as I feel here, I’m actually ready to go back now – I’m missing e v e r y o n e and my bed. Scott is missing nothing because going “home” means work and he’d rather keep pretending he’s retired here. Plotting how soon he CAN really retire and we can get back to Europe…
We’re back in Barcelona (at a hotel by the airport – nothing pretty or fancy this time) and just got back from a mall (yes, a mall – full of screaming kids and their yelling parents) across the street where we had – ASIAN food!! We were one of only 3-4 tables filled in a gigantic room with a huge buffet and happy to have something (this is so ironic) familiar! (It wasn’t even GOOD Asian food but Scott was thrilled to get something SPICY at last). To the Barcelonians it’s anything BUT familiar so they were avoiding it like the plague and the mall was PACKED – especially the only place serving beer and tapas. Anyway, I hate to say it but I really wanted something different from the typical charcuterie/antipasti/tapas. Turns out they’re all the same with the difference being the spices used in the meats. Still love it! Just needed a change of pace.
Anyway, we couldn’t leave Bagnone on Friday until we did the laundry – did I mention that it takes an hour and a half to WASH a load and another 3 hours to DRY it? If the sun is hot and the wind is brisk and you can borrow the neighbours wash line instead of hanging it on the ridiculous rack provided that is. We did our best but we didn’t want to hang around ALL day so the towels were a little…damp when we did leave. (Ok they were soaking wet! but the sheets and duvet cover were dry!! We got up at 6:00 am and Scott ripped the sheets off the bed, rolling me out of it before my eyes were even open).
We hit the road at 11:00 and headed out on the road again (no, we’re not tired of it – we like road trips). Arrividerci Italy and we’re sorry we didn’t fall in love with you although I’m still not sure why not?? You are beautiful but just a little too full of yourself I think. I figured out what it was! Italians have no sense of humour!!
Bonjour France! SO happy to see you again! We stopped in Cagnes-sur-Mer for a last cafe-au-lait and a “we’ll be back!” and then got back on the autostrada heading for Marseille. It was overcast and raining a little when we got there and it’s a working port town so it’s like a grizzled old man next to it’s flamboyantly lovely neighbour, the French Riviera. I ended up booking us a hotel in yet another ancient area (Vieux Port) but I swear – this time I didn’t know!! You can’t tell these things on the internet!! Once again poor Scott was sweating buckets manoevering us to our hotel (buses coming at him down streets not even wide enough, in OUR opinion, for a Smart Car!!) in what looked like a questionably seedy neighbourhood. Skidding the car to a stop in the nearest parking spot he could find and double-checking to make sure it was locked, we jumped out and walked fast to the reception area. What a nice surprise! The hotel was a 4 cornered compound with a pretty garden in the middle, a patio with umbrella-ed tables and chairs, a pool and private, gated PARKING! The bed wasn’t rock hard and the bathroom was luxurious for all of 90 euro’s for the night.
We decided we didn’t want to be boring and eat at the hotel (which was expensive and was only serving spaghetti anyway) so we went exploring. We walked and walked, trying to find a nice brasserie but apparently, those only exist in cute provencal resort towns? All we saw were closed boulangeries and open liquor stores. We ended up at the port, way down the hill from the hotel (KNOWING this would involve more climbing at the end of the night but thinking we’d probably end up needing it since we have NO restraint when it comes to food). Found a little restaurant called “Eden Roc” right on the sea and liked the menu posted outside. Went in and I was at a total loss for what to ask for – 3 languages in 3 weeks is a little much to remember!! So I said “Une tavolo para…” no, that’s not right so I mumble and then exclaim in desperation “une….ummm ENGLISH?” The waiter looks at me and says “I’m Jacques! and I’m FRENCH!”. He’s also a comedian.
We take a table overlooking the wild sea and the rocks it’s crashing on below, and attempt to read the menu. I’m getting pretty good at this but I have to translate for Scott. I order the seafood brochette and he says he wants the “poisson grille” – I say “are you sure?” because he doesn’t really like fish all that much. He says “yes, I’m sure”, Ok then! Next we know – Jacques is bringing him a whole grilled fish – eyeballs and all. Before I can get a picture though, he whisks it away and says – “I prepare it for you”. He whacks off the head and tail, removes the bones and re-presents it to Scott all nice and filleted. Meanwhile, the people in the booth next to us are laughing at us and people in the bar upstairs are yelling “merde” and other nice french words at the tv screen because the World Cup is on and their team (whichever that might be?? It’s Uruguay vs South Africa) is not doing well. Jacques disappears up there frequently too.
Our meal was great, and the view – once the sun slipped below the clouds to set – gorgeous. A sailboat came past just as it was just half an orangey-yellow ball on the horizon. Picture perfect – not that we could GET the picture perfect? But see why we love France??
The walk back up the hill seemed easy after a few glasses of nice vin blanc too. Oh I need to add here that Scott has some kind of uncanny radar when it comes to finding his way around – I don’t know how he DOES that! He is ALWAYS right (and usually, I’m wrong and get us lost).
Today, we set off early for Barcelona and are very glad we did. We took a detour to Stes Maries-de-la-Mer in the Parc National de Camargue and it was totally worth it! This is French cowboy country y’all! Giddyup! There is one “dude” ranch after another – all offering riding the famous white horses of the Camergue.
Further on, there’s an ornithogical reserve (or a bird sanctuary that is) and we see flamingo’s and storks! Finally, we get to Stes Maries de-la-Mer – so-called because the saints Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome and Mary Magdelene and her black maid Sarah, were, legend says, shipwrecked there. The Mary’s have pride of place in the church but black Sarah is relegated to the crypt. Regardless, the votives are blazing beside her – she’s very popular. Other than this one historical note, it’s completely a charming tourist town by the sea – beaches, shops, and of course, cafes line the streets. This is where the people of Marseille, Arles and Nimes must come to holiday we think. Anyway, it was another wonderful “find” for us and yet another reason to love the south of France.
Tomorrow – Holland! Scott wants to drink beer in Belgium (Antwerp maybe?). Hopefully, that can be arranged?
No adventures today – got up late, had coffee, blogged, read, did some laundry, tried – once again – to find the path to the river, failed (grrrrr), came back and read some more, napped, walked (we had a companion – a dog from the area felt he needed to show us the way to the river wayyy down the end of the road). Made pasta, then challenged Scott to make dessert out of what was available in the house. He made a wonderful kind of pear, rum, almond, crisp thing. I knew he could do it. Drank a lot of wine because there was a white to finish and a red to open for dinner and we couldn’t just NOT finish it right?
Tomorrow we’ll be on the road again after we clean the place and wash the sheets and towels which takes for-EVER here – the washer goes on and on through cycle after cycle and everything has to dry on the line before the next visitors get here. I’m really appreciating our washer/dryer right now!
Oh and our kitchen appliances too – the main breaker blew this morning because we had the oven and the kettle on at the same time.
We’re not sad to leave Italy – although it’s BEAUTIFUL here, it just didn’t feel right for us. Feels like things are winding down though so we’re a little sad even though we still have another week and Holland to look forward to! We are not ready to go home – Scott more than me – he has to work. I’m torn between missing everyone and wanting MORE of Europe. You might have noticed that we like it a lot here. Of course we’re on vacation and everything’s always better on vacation right? We’re ready for a PERMA-vacation though! Ok, well, I’m already on one of those but Scott is still hoping for one too! We’ve been totally spoiled by the weather too – it had better come back with us!!
Some random Italy pics:
Ariane, if you’re reading this we should Skype tomorrow morning? We’re thinking we’ll take the train from Schipol to s’ Hertengobosch on Sunday – arriving at around 3:00 pm I think? Does that work for you?
Anyway, Bona Sera – night night!
(Or Florence to we non-Italians). What a city! I think, of everywhere we’ve been, Florence is the most amazing historically speaking. (Cindy, you are going to love it.) In France, the architecture was pretty, but the art all hidden away in museums. In Florence, there are architectural marvels like the Duomo (wow), the Uffizi Gallery building, and the Pitti Palace, not to mention the many huge statutes in the Piazza di Republica. (Excuse me everyone but I have to say, I have never seen so many marble penises!!!)
Anyway, cooking today, art history tomorrow. We met our chef (his name is actually Giovanni not Massimo) who is not what I expected at all! Instead of being fat, jolly, older and Florentine, he’s young and slim and from Positano on the Amalfi Coast (no ladies, although not bad looking, he’s no Marcello). He immediately sets off for the San Lorenzo market with the group trailing behind and Scott right up front chatting away to him about Canada. Scott’s in his element – he loves tours and talking to new people. After a long walk and goggling at the astounding array of shops – from Chanel and Gucci to cheap AND expensive jewellery boutiques to a zillion market stalls (I’m not really interested in the stores but the market stalls and the prospect of bargaining is irresistible) we finally arrive at the food market. It’s a little like Granville Island, but smaller. Giovanni talks to all the stall owners (he has his favourites) like they’re old friends and they probably are.
We get to taste foccacia bread and pecorino cheese and great fresh first-pressed olive oil made locally as well as balsamic vinegars. One that we test is 12 years old, tastes like sweet syrup with an edge – yum – and sells for 47 euros for a teeny tiny bottle. We resist buying truffled duck foie gras (which I’m pretty sure is French anyway) but we’re bringing home some of the younger – only 4 years old – balsamic vinegar. We suspect that Giovanni gets discounts from the stall owners for bringing us by so they can sell us their goods. In Italy, it seems that one hand always washes the other and nothing comes for free.
After the market, we take what seems like a really fast long walk back in the heat (29 degrees) and up 3 flights of stairs. I struggle to keep up wearing my stupid flipflops – nobody told me I’d need running shoes! Giovanni’s “cooking school” is actually his apartment (un-airconditioned by the way) which is meticulously clean (we appreciate that) and all Ikea white and black. I suspect he may be a tad OCD because he mentions several times that you must clean after each dish is made. He’s all about simplicity and fresh ingredients – none of those silly french sauces that overwhelm the food – pah. Our menu today includes bruschetta, which, he reminds us, is just the name for the toasted bread and NOT chopped tomatoes in vinegar (he makes another disgusted face), meat sauce with fresh pasta, and ends with the dolce (dessert) – the classic Italian tiramisu (HIS recipe of course).
We start with the tiramisu – I get to seperate the eggs – that’s my only job (other than rolling pasta) that day – I am not cute and blonde and young (aaagggh 50! I’m FIFTY today!!) like Sarah – the youngest member of the group. He gets Daniel from Perth, Australia (or Daniel-o in Italy) a big, florid carpenter, to whip the whites, and Adam from Miami (or Adam-o in Italy) to combine the yolks and sugar. (Oh by the way, we are the oldest people in the room – everyone else is at least under 35.) Danielo is overwhipping the whites and Adamo looks like he is afraid of his yolks & sugar mixture and is mixing it very very slowly and delicately. Giovanni says “Adamo – we don’t have all DAY”. Adamo blushes and beats the mixture harder with the wooden spoon. Giovanni seems particularly taken with Sarah (even though she’s newly engaged to her partner Jon) and has her assist him numerous times (she even gets recruited to dry his dishes! what an honour! I don’t think she thinks so but she’s too young to tell him to dry his own dishes!).
After the tiramisu Giovanni starts on the bruschetta and gives us 3 recipes to top the toasted bread. Meanwhile, he has Adamo toast the bread in the toaster and then teases him because first it’s too white and then it’s too brown and then he burns the last batch. Poor Adam – good thing he’s a great sport.
Ok, I could go on and on and on about the food but suffice it to say that Giovanni is young and needs to work on his group people skills, he looks startled when we (well me, no one else did) ask questions and no one has a chance to talk to each other. However, his meat sauce is divine (and ju-ee-cy as he puts it and I try not to giggle too obviously) and the pasta that Scott helps to make (I wait for Giovanni to Italianize his name to Scott-o but disappointingly, he doesn’t) is yumm-o to quote Rachael Ray -now I know where she gets this propensity from. Everyone has at least 2 servings and Giovanni makes Scott eat the last bit – as you can imagine, it was really hard for him. REALLY! It was!!
I FORGOT to take pictures of the food so memory will have to do.
After we all say goodbye and go our separate ways, clutching our “certificates” in the “Wanna be Italian” cooking class, Scott and I head to the Uffizi Gallery. There are artists lining the piazza painting various Tuscan scenes, and portraits etc – some of them are really good! The line is ridiculous so we buy tickets for the next day, and then I drag Scott around the outdoor markets selling scarves and bags and tacky tourist stuff etc. poor guy. He’s very patient though I have to say – I’d have been not NEARLY as patient if he’d dragged me through electronic store after electronic store! To his relief, we leave the market for the bus station because after we try to hail a cab a lady tells us they won’t stop so we’ll have to call. (Very nice of her by the way.) Better to go to the “stazione” – there are lots of taxis there. We don’t find a taxi but we do find an underground mall (weird and a little scary – wouldn’t want to be down there at night) and an aeropuerto shuttle. Costs a lot less than the taxi – only 10 euro instead of 25! 2 hours later, we’re back in Bagnone and once again fall into bed exhausted.
We get up early again to head back to Florence for Day 2 – our “appointment” at the Uffizi is for 11:00 am and we have a 1 1/2 hour drive. I finally buy some good walking shoes in the mall under the street – I’m so happy! They’re red, and leather, and COMFORTABLE! I love them and my toes match, and my bag matches…Oh yeah – the Uffizi – Kevin – when you recommended we see it, you did not tell me how HUGE this gallery is! It’s an entire city block. Took us 2 1/2 hours JUST to get through the 3rd floor after which we gave up. But there! We DID do SOMETHING cultural and I enjoyed it (even if Scott was fed up after room 15). I didn’t realize that all the Italian masters painted the SAME things – all having to do with Christ’s life & death. There are at LEAST 12 versions of “Madonna Adoring Child” (I love Botticelli’s best) and these are only the ones in the Uffizi – worldwide there are probably 100’s. Then of course, there was the never-ending museum shop (which seemed to take up the entire first floor). I buy a couple of Botticelli postcards – one is the Madonna in the Rosegarden which I fall in love with and the other portrays a lady holding a sword with her maid behind her carrying a man’s severed head in a basket – not sure what THAT’S about but I want to find out. There are 4 or 5 versions of that particular scene too, one painted by one of the ONLY female painters of the time (and a whole lot gorier than Botticelli’s), Artemisia Gentileschi.
(The first is Gentileschi’s and the second Boticelli’s version.)
Scott is overjoyed when we find the uscita (exit) and even happier when we are lured into a trattoria for lunch. After lunch, we go shopping again and I find a beautiful green leather bag that I buy as a birthday present from Margot – thanks Margot! : ) Leather is everywhere in Florence, shoes, belts, handbags in stores, on street corner stalls – everywhere. Scarves too!
Next we HAVE to have a gelato – could be our last chance in Italy! We make a mistake though and order our gelato in paper cups and THEN sit down. No no no! We are told that it costs extra to sit at the tables because we’re supposed to be waited on, and get our gelato in glass ice cream bowls with lovely decorative cookies. Oops. There are a lot of rules for doing things here that I don’t think we have at home? Maybe we do – we just don’t think about them?
Then, Scott crazily decides he’s going to climb the 435 steps to the top of Duomo in the 33 degree heat – he wants to work off the pasta and gelato and wants pictures to prove that he did it and survived. Meanwhile I go…shopping…but my heart’s not in it anymore – I’ve had enough of the city – too much noise (sirens, 20 different languages being spoken, buses lurching around, street cleaners). I want to get back to peaceful and COOL Bagnone. It’s in the mountains so it doesn’t retain the day’s heat.
First, we have to stop at Ikea though – Scott’s on the hunt for ice cube trays and for some reason, we can’t find any anywhere. The GPS is no help because Ikea doesn’t, as far as it’s concerned, exist here. Even though it’s a GIGANTIC blue and yellow building and clearly DOES exist!! We can SEE it from the autostrada and it looks like it’s 5 minutes away but it takes us 45 minutes to find it. Scott’s BIGGEST adventure on this trip is DRIVING. He’ll have more gray hair when we get back.
Tomorrow – another rest day before we leave Italy and head back to Marseille for an overnight. I’d hoped to go to Cinque Terre but we’ve run out of steam and need to chillax before the long drive. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a nice gentle walk and actually FIND the stupid river??
For now, as they say here – arrividerci! or ciao! depending…(on what we have no idea).
Second day here in Bagnone and we are settling into the peacefulness of the area – it is, after all, a simple mountain village, except there’s a castle – we haven’t been there yet. There isn’t a lot to do and like all villages, everyone knows everyone so we are feeling strange and foreign. For the most part what interaction we have had has been friendly though. The old man who appears to be the community gardener nods and smiles widely when he sees us, the family that owns the “salume” – delicatessan – talks to us in Italian with lots of gestures. Scott and the father/owner have an interesting exchange that comes down to “women, you can’t live with them – or without them”. While that’s going on, I patiently wait my turn while the old woman ordering her daily cheese and meat talks a blue streak to the patient younger woman I assume to be the shop owner’s daughter. I take a picture and hear the word “turista” and we all laugh.
I have my own encounter (and then an adventure) as I try to locate the river the town is known for (it’s beautiful and has many waterfalls and natural swimming holes). The instructions that Will, the owner of our present home, gives me tell me that we can walk out the back garden to the river down a path. Sounds simple right? So I set off alone (Scott is still mastering the art of indolence and staying home and reading). There are two directions to choose – one leads to the main road – no path. The second is to the left and ends at a residence – still no path. There’s an old man in the garden and he sees me and looking scared, he calls to his wife. She comes out wearing the typical Italian apron over housedress and smiles at me showing a mouth full of blackened and missing teeth but her smile is warm. I try to say that I’m looking for the path to the river and they look at me with total incomprehension. Then I play charades and point down the hill, cup my hand to my ear to show I can hear it, and make a wavy kind of motion. Light dawns and she says aaahhhh fiume! Si! I nod and smile and she nods and smiles. She points me down a path and I say grazie, grazie, ciao! and they watch happily as I go down the path.
The path leads NOT to the river, but to a small meadow with a broken down old camper in it. At this point a sensible person would have turned back but I’m NOT sensible and I keep on going – path or no path I am GOING to find the river. After about 5 minutes of walking through the woods I do find it and then walk along the stone banks taking pictures. Then the stones run out and it’s back to bushwhacking my way through the thick underbrush (nearly stepping on a 2 foot long snake along the way). I keep thinking, sooner or later there will be a path!! 15 minutes of alternately bushwhacking and stepping on stones and I come to an impasse. It’s into the river or back the way I came (and I’m still thinking that I MUST be close to the damn path!!) So I take off my shoes, stuff the camera into my sock and then into a shoe, tie them together and fling them around my neck and in I go. Holding on to the stone wall beside me, I pick my way VERY carefully over the slippery stones, up past my knees in the cold water (which actually feels wonderful – bushwhacking is hot, hard work). Finally, I see a bridge! If I can JUST get to that bridge I’m sure it will lead somewhere! Easier said than done but now I’m on the rocks below it and all I have to do is grasp the thick handy ropes and hoist myself up to a flat rock, dry off and climb up beside the bridge. Easy yes?? NO. I get to the rock, hoist myself up higher but then find I have to bushwhack and backtrack on the cliff ABOVE the river. Oh and did I mention the killer thorn bushes that, evilly and deliberately I’m sure, scratched my arms and legs to bits the entire time I WASN’T in the river? There is no good place to traverse up the slope so I say to hell with it and whack my way through the thickest part of this godforsaken forest yet. Vines catch my feet, the thorny bushes catch on to my hair and clothes, and a tree/bush traps me in it’s branches. I feel like a defeated superhero and I’m sure I’m going to be swallowed up by that tree and die. My bones won’t be found until the next century because NOBODY knows where I am. With that vision in my head I say to myself – NOT GOING TO HAPPEN and I fight my way out with a TAAAWWWAAANNNDA yell and finally, blessedly (I almost kissed it) made it to the road. Joyfully, I climb up it and…noooooo!!! there is a locked gate at the end of it. This really can not be happening – I think Italy hates us and is trying to expel us because right then, I want to go hoooommmeee (or at least back to France). The whole time I’m going through this I’m cursing Will and his stupid directions. Finally, a path magically appears and actually leads to a road! Whether it’s a road I know is unknown at the moment. I schlomp my way up it in the hot sun, desperate for some water. 20 minutes later, it turns out to be the right road and I arrive through the door, covered in scratches, sweat running down my forehead, grass, leaves and thorns stuck to my clothes and in my hair, glare at Scott and tell him my sad story (he’s TRYING really hard to be sympathetic and not laugh his head off but doing a very poor job of it.) Well, I DID say I wanted an adventure right???
Freshly showered, adventure behind me, and feeling MUCH better, I prepare the small chicken we bought at the supermarket this morning. I stuff it with lemons, fresh rosemary and garlic, and rub it with olive oil and coarse salt (being in Italy does inspire you to cook! even if I am cooking it the french way). I have no idea how long it will take to roast because the oven seems a bit iffy so I put it in at 3:30 and I go have a nap. (Scott is alternately attempting to figure out why the washing machine won’t spin, consulting Italian translation programs, and giving up and reading.) An hour later the chicken smells amazing and it looks like we’re having dinner early today! That’s ok, it’s technically lunch because as I mentioned, we had no breakfast food and didn’t have anything to eat ’til noon.
Tomorrow is my birthday and cooking with a chef in Italy!! I hope this next adventure (please, please) is a GOOD one!! I’ll let you know…
Oh and Scott wanted to mention yet more ridiculously narrow roads passing through the town.
Well it was built in the 15th century for carts not cars!
Feels like a loonnngg time since last Thursday morning. We’ve gone from France to Italy and let’s just say…we miss France.
First, back to our last day and night in France. True to my word, we did nothing alllll day except read and relax. Then we went up to Fleur de Sel and splurged on our last meal in Haut de Cagnes. Scott was in food nirvana (to put it nicely) when the aroma of his Le Foie Gras Poele hit his nose and then his tastebuds. Drool was falling down his chin. My dinner was pretty nice too but not drool-worthy. 3 hours and 4 courses later, we waddle back down the hill. (We each have 3 chins now.)
Very VERY sad to leave Maison Bleu the next morning! However, the prospect of Italy seemed like a nice consolation.
We headed first to Menton – the last stop in France. It’s a lovely seaside town just east of Monaco (which we bypassed) that used to be the winter residence of Queen Victoria and half her court. The architecture is ornately decorated and pink, yellow and white (the colours are Italian but the decoration is French – I’m sure there’s a fancy historical period name for that but I don’t know it).
As per usual (ho-hum heehee), we stopped for lunch in one of the brasseries lining the seafront and meet our waiter, who we christened “Agadore” (from the Bird Cage) because his feet appeared to not belong to his body. He shuffled over to take our order, then shuffled across the street to the restaurant to put it in, then shuffled back to pour us some water and bring us a basket of bread and then shuffled back across. We ordered the special which we learned never to do again – it’s yesterday’s leftovers – including the fish ugh. (We’re just a little fussy?) Then Scott had the nerve to order the house special dessert which was not included with the special special and he HAD to have it was his favorite – a tarte citron. I think they had to mill the flour for the crust because it took THAT LONG for the thing to arrive. Then, we requested il conto – the bill – no wait, that’s Italian, ummmm oh yes – l’ addition!! and I think they had to manufacture the paper for it because after I left and walked the beach up and down for a 1/2 hour Scott still hadn’t seen it. (He finally went into the restaurant to pay it but he could have just as easily sauntered right out.)
After lunch we decide we should at least do SOMETHING cultural because really, we’ve just been laying around, or sitting around, or wandering around aimlessly – mastering the art of indolence! (AT LAST – SOMETHING WE EXCEL AT!!). So we go to the Musee du (de?) Beaux Arts. First it takes us 20 minutes to find the entrance which is a tiny closed door at the back of the building. We go in and the atmosphere is hushed, reverent and tomblike. There is NO ONE in the museum except an old lady selling postcards. We climb the ornate marble staircase and whisper to each other – we’re afraid to disturb the dust that’s settled over everything. There are 5 rooms, each with about 6 paintings in them that are dark, religiously-themed (is anything in Southern Europe NOT religiously-themed?) and not very interesting at all. Until the Uffizi in Italy we decide we’re done with culture. I know – such PHILISTINES!!
Carrying on, we cross the border to Italy and we knew we were there as soon as we hit the first tunnel on the autostrada (there are no tunnels in France). The country is mountainous all the way down to the ocean and is shaped sort of like fingers. You go through a tunnel, then there’s a valley that’s covered with houses and vineyards and olive groves and other mysterious agricultural stuff, and at the bottom is the Mediterranean. It’s like playing peekaboo for an hour and a half.We arrive in Ameglia and Scott’s a wreck – Italian drivers are even more insane than the French! Steve, Jeremy and Jeff would LOVE it here. There IS a speed limit and there ARE lines on the road but these are merely suggestions. No one takes them seriously and they get quite annoyed with you if you don’t “get” this. Anyway, this is where things start to fall apart. First, I can’t find the address to the hotel we’re staying in for one night before we get to our rental in Bagnone. So we’re guessing where to go. Meanwhile the GPS is leading us up ridiculously narrow and steep streets to the old town (there is ALWAYS an old town and it’s ALWAYS on a hill here) and Scott is death-gripping the steering wheel and I’m wisely keeping my mouth shut. Eventually, we re-program it to the nearest hotel and the stupid thing takes us on what we are SURE is a goat track. However, the GPS SAYS to go that way so that way we go (this is where brains need to take over I think??). It ends up on an even NARROWER goat track and we finally decide that something has gone wrong with the navigation system. I say meekly – “maybe we should back up” and Scott screams – “back up?? back up??? Are you KIDDING me???” But, we have no other choice, so, sweating profusely, he does. He almost makes it! Just 5 more feet!! And then, disaster. The car’s left side wheels fall off. I mean, the WHEELS don’t fall off – the CAR falls halfway off the ROAD – into someone’s driveway. We sit there, head in hands, thinking – this can NOT be good. And yes, no joking, this really DID happen.
A woman on the road below us (probably the one the GPS MEANT us to take) starts gesturing wildly and talking rapidly in Italian – we understand this to mean “stupid tourists, can’t you SEE that it’s a goat track??”. A guy on a motorcyle drives up and shakes his head and in heavily accented English says “very very bad”. REALLY??? NO KIDDING!! Anyway, he’s a very nice man and he goes off to find help. Meanwhile a very well-dressed older gentleman drives up on a Vespa and he can speak some English (turns out he was in Canada 25 years ago – we have a nice conversation about it). He also shakes his head. We will be the talk of the town that night I’m sure.
Eventually, help arrives in the form of 3 men (one is obviously the father because he barks orders at the other two who mutely obey) in a flatbed truck with a lift. They pile out (shaking their heads) and then the men (including Scott and the motorcyle guy) go to work physically heaving the car back on to the track. There are terrible grinding noises and lots of shouting but it gets done quickly. I’m impressed. No lasting damage has been done to the car! However, to ensure that he gets payment – the guy loads the car on to his flatbed (he says he’s from Sarzana but I think he must have some Sicilian blood too) and takes us to a bank machine because he wants 300 EUROS!! and we only have 200. The bank machine doesn’t take our cards. We go to another one – still nothing. FINALLY, he drives us to Sarzana, talking about carni and god knows what else (I assume he’s not happy to be missing his dinner?) to a buddy who has a Mastercard machine. It works! So he unloads our hostaged car, shakes our hands vigorously and drives off – apparently to have his delayed dinner.
Ahhhh Italy – we love it already! (Grrr) We get to the hotel – don’t ask how – and we are greeted by the restaurant manager because the owner has stepped out. He looks in the book and there is NO reservation BUT luckily there is one “camere” (room) left! But he kindly encourages us to have drinks to wait for the owner and we willingly oblige. Then we are invited to have dinner in the dining room and we don’t CARE how much it costs – we’re not driving ANYWHERE. We have a very good bottle of wine – a Di Leonardo Sauvignon Blanc – that goes well with my seafood risotto and Scott’s pasta, pay a fortune and then we fall into bed and are out in seconds.
In the morning, we are about to check out and pay the bill, and Stephano – our wonderful host – says “your reservation was for tonight – you are confused about the days”. WHAT????? Do you mean to tell me that we could have stayed in Maison Bleu for one more night and we might NOT have ended up on (and off) the goat track???? Aaaagggghhhh!!!
But, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade right?? So, since we have an extra day in Italy, we go to the beach. I put on my ridiculously teeny tiny bikini because Scott said it looked fine (I severely doubted that but it was oddly freeing) and I sure didn’t look as bad as some we saw! We rented two beach chairs and an umbrella and parked ourselves among the astounding buffet of flesh (mamma mia!!) for the day. It was very hot but we couldn’t feel it because of the strong sea breeze that assaulted the body. Arriving back at the hotel we were shocked to see that we were both beet red even though Scott stayed under the umbrella all day and I was already tanned. So, note to self, do NOT lie on the beach for hours cooking yourself like a Sunday roast even IF you want to be the best you can be at indolence.
Deciding we can’t afford another meal at the hotel, good as it was, we drive to Lerici – a town that hangs on the cliffs like Cinque Terre but we’ve been told is far less touristy. On the way, (this is for you Gwen and Brendan), we pass a sign that says “Mexico cafe de art” with a banner next to it reading “Pizza” and below it (I swear to god it’s true even though I didn’t get evidence) a sign saying O’Neill’s Irish Pub – in ITALY!!!
Anyway, once again, Scott is white-knuckled as he manouvers the car down the steep and narrow streets to the harbour. Then he parks and worries whether it will be towed. Finally he relaxes when we find a place serving pizza on the piazza overlooking the harbour and he has a huge glass of beer in his hand. The sun is setting behind the hills and casting soft light on the boats bobbing in the harbour and the bambini’s playing around the statue (seriously!! I’m not kidding!! It really was that beautiful).
Scott orders a calzone (Texano – he’s hoping for some spicy heat) and I have a pizza with gorgonzola and speck (the chins are expanding again) and when Scott’s calzone arrives (see picture below) his eyes are big, round disbelieving saucers. It’s ENORMOUS. I laugh at his expression and so does the guy at the table next to us. He manages to finish the whole thing – claiming most of it is air.
We wind our way back to the hotel and once again the GPS leads us down a goat track! In the dark!! Luckily THIS one is mostly untrafficked and stays the same SIZE all the way to the hotel.
Which brings us to this morning. Finally. I can’t sleep for the birds singing, the roosters crowing and a distant donkey sounding like it’s being murdered so I decide to go for a walk down last night’s track. The view across the cultivated fields to Ameglia’s old town perched in the hills is spectacular and I forgot the camera! (I tried to get a picture later in the day but it wasn’t the same.) A woman having her morning run passes me and looks suspiciously at me – as if I might, I don’t know – speak English at her?
We have breakfast – we’re the only ones in the dining room and our new waiter – Paolo – is so eager to be of service that he asks me 3 times if I’d like more cappucino or ham. Then he runs around straightening napkins and forks and knives and adjusting the buffet 45 times – I look at him and he shrugs and says – “it is my job”. Checking out, we promise Stephano (who has eyes like a puppy dog) to send him a postcard from Canada. He’s been really wonderful, talking to us frequently, making sure we’re happy – we feel very special.
We head to Lucca and hallelujah! Find parking immediately! (This is a miracle in Italy so far.) And the town is flat!! Not at the top (or bottom) of a huge hill! We go to the tourist office and meet the wacky German lady working there who spits out quotes from Beatles songs and says repeatedly – you have to be nice right? She lets me use the toilet (although it’s restricted) because she thinks I am sweet. Too funny!
Lucca has a fortified wall surrounding it and you can walk, or bike, on the tree-shaded paths and go into the town center from various points along it. We rented bikes because my feet are killing me from the walk and burning them on the beach. Good decision!! After biking all the way around, true to form, we find the center of town – the Anfiteatro – and guess what?? YES!! We sit at a cafe and EAT!! We did actually go in one church though! Not the Duomo – we couldn’t find it (but we didn’t really look very hard either).
Back on the road again, we head for our final Southern European home – Bagnone. The roads this time are good so Scott is relatively relaxed. The GPS once again takes us on the winding, scenic route but this time the track is at least as big as a small herd of goats. The whole town is out and lining the streets goggling at us (reminds me of Didsbury) as we drive through to our rental waaayyy up in the hills. Ok, so this is NO Maison Bleu and we were very spoiled by it (and France)! Here, on the Via Corlaga (which you have to get to by going on the Via Gallileo Gallilee – trying saying THAT a few times in a row! We laugh hysterically at the American voice’s really really bad pronunciation of it.
So imagine, the door is practically ON the busy road (there are two steps) and as people roar up and down it they beep their horns to let other people know they’re coming. Joy! We open the door, expecting – well, probably something similar to Maison Bleu and are disappointed. There’s no stove – just a hot plate, the kitchen is IN the living room, and other than that, there’s a bathroom and a bedroom and the bed is this time so soft that we’re afraid we’ll fall through it. (Actually, it turned out to be very comfortable for me). We’re not homesick yet (getting there a little though) but we really miss our bed!! It’s Sunday and NOTHING in Italy is open except gas stations and carwashes. So, no wine for the evening meal, no milk for the morning coffee, and no breakfast period. There are no outdoor cafe’s (worth sitting in) either and the nearest grocery store is 51 km’s away. Probably a good thing – starving for a day or two might get rid of ONE chin??
HOPEFULLY, the rest of our time in Italy improves or we may go back to France. I still have that cooking class in Florence though! Assuming I don’t get the date wrong and the train actually gets there (the guest book says it fairly commonly stops in Verzanna with no connection to Florence – what??). It leaves at 6:15 in the morning, has about 12 stops, and arrives at 8:30 am. I hope I can stay awake through the class – we haven’t gotten up that early on PURPOSE since home.
Final note – shockingly, we are finding that Italy is more expensive than France – except for the beach. 12 euros for a beach chair versus 3. BUT, in France, someone waits on you for the 12 euros. Ahhh, to have been born rich and French. Or, we’d have settled for just rich.
PS – HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALISHIA! Hope you had a wonderful day! : )
It’s another beautiful day on the Cote d’Azur and in Nice we understood WHY it’s called the Azure Coast. We took the bus in for 1 euro – they say it’s expensive here and some things definitely are, but some things – like baguettes and wine and bus trips definitely are not. Our goal was to see the Cours Saleya market but since we didn’t actually end up leaving until noon (we just couldn’t seem to move very fast that morning), we missed it. We’re doing that a lot – things in France don’t operate on the timetable we’re used to. However, we ended having a lovely lunch at one of the HUNDREDS (and I’m not kidding – the choices are literally mind-boggling) of brassieries in Vieux Nice (old Nice). We ordered something “assiete” and had no idea what we’d be getting other than it would be “assorted”. The only other word I recognized was “ratatouille”. What arrived were crispy eggplant and pepper fritters, green salad over ratouille, meat stuffed roasted zucchini and tomatoes and melt in your mouth potatoes. Great choice!
Then we went shopping – and wow – WHAT shopping – it’s a woman’s paradise! There is everything from Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, little boutiques selling uniquely french clothes (the women here know how to DRESS), French Provencal EVERYTHING only seen in Williams Sonoma and La Cache at home, and of course the tourist staples – postcards, t-shirts, etc. I was in heaven and Scott found some great gelato so he was pretty happy too.
After shopping we headed for the famed Nice beach which runs from one end of Vieux Nice all the way to Cagnes-sur-Mer and beyond. On the way we stretched our necks this way and that, ogling the architecture of La Belle Epoch – from the 1920’s when the Riviera was at it’s height. Then, ohhh, the azure water (which I didn’t really believe would BE the turquoise colour from brochures but really WAS). Breathtaking. We walked the Promenade Anglaise – built when the orange crop failed and the rich English employed the poor French to build it – looking at the sunbathers below. Yes, there were bared breasts – of all ages, but mostly young women in tiny little bikinis. It was like a breast buffet, I don’t know how Scott could stand to look at it?? For the ladies there were some pretty nice views too wink wink.
Around 4:00 we stopped to have a couple of beers and some pomme frites at the VERY posh restaurant in front of the Hotel Negresco – the most expensive of the hotels (why not? You only live once!) and were served the pommes frites with knife and fork and linen napkins. Ahhhh – THIS is what the good life feels like! Unfortunately, my view was of a very scary hard-faced woman of about my age (wouldn’t want to meet HER in a dark alley), considerably bulky with frizzy YELLOW hair, wearing a tiny bikini while fleshily stretched out on one of the ubiquitous blue striped beach chaises. Oooh La LA. Yikes.
Eventually, we ambled back down to the beach (the beer and heat combining to make us somewhat torpid) and parked ourselves right in front of the water. Scott, the saint – he hates sun and heat – sat on the rocks reading his I-pod (there was a nice breeze off the ocean to keep him somewhat cool) so I could happily doze, listening to the powerful crashing of the waves in front and a group of young people playing acoustic guitar and singing in French (really well too!) behind. I keep having to pinch myself – are we really here?? Reluctantly, we left the beach about 6:00 and headed back.
In Cagnes-sur-Mer, there’s a bus called a “navette” that’s free and runs up to the castle and back – we hadn’t it taken it yet because we thought we should walk up the hill to wear off calories consumed – but this time we were exhausted and forgot to pick up our baguette for dinner so decided to eat at Le Jimmy’s (seriously – LE Jimmy’s – makes us giggle) at the castle. There was a huge group of German? (not sure) people who were there to celebrate what looked like an anniversary of one couple. They made speeches, and serenaded the couple with a song, and were generally extremely entertaining. Meanwhile, two young men played boules (bocci ball) very well (oh, is THAT how it’s played?? who knew?) on the pitch in front of us as the sun went down over the gorgeous, million dollar estate covered hills behind us. We ordered Jimmy’s special – pizza – a huge one each with very thin crusts. Scott had a meat and egg one and it was disappointing but mine was artichoke, and tomatoes and…hmmm…do we talk about FOOD just a little much?? heehee The only downside? It took the waiter for-freaking-EVER to get us the bill and we were sooo tired and I was freezing by then in my beach dress. As soon as we paid, we left and stumbled down the hill to our home away from home and fell directly into bed and were snoring within minutes.
The next day we got up EARLY but still managed not to get to Antibes ’til 11:00 (we got off at the wrong stop… although there WAS a nice little gypsy clothing market… and ended up having to wait for another bus) – this time we made it to the Marche Provencal though! I said I wanted a holiday that was all about the food of Europe and we are definitely having it! The cheeses! The meats! The fresh fruit and vegetables! Olives! Breads! Our fridge is stuffed already but we can’t resist buying just ONE more cheese, a couple of huge juicy figs (to melt St. Agur on) and a wonderful artisan sausage from a very good salesman (he sold us the cheese too).
We tried to get to the beach afterwards but the entrance was mysteriously hidden and it wasn’t worth the effort of finding it. Frankly, we’re a bit cranky and tired and should probably have saved Antibes for today. Dare I say it? We’ve seen a LOT of quaint ancient narrow cobble-stoned streets and stone houses and churches and cute shops and boulangeries by now and it’s all starting to look the same. We push on though and argue about finding the right bus to Biot. In Biot we get off at the wrong stop AGAIN and argue about where and how to find the old town with the artisans blowing glass. We end up at a MALL of all places! The first we’ve seen and it has a mammoth Walmart-esque store which actually turns out to be just what we needed for some every day kind of supplies like soap, and wine glasses (we broke a couple), and my first bikini since I was 12!! it’s too small which is the norm in France so I’ll fit right in! and car polish for the scrapes on the car from the day we arrived. That’s happening a lot – no NOT the scrapes on the car! – ending up exactly where we need to be – we must have an angel watching over us.
(Sorry everyone – not too many pics taken yesterday but there will be more in Italy!)
After that, we just want to go home so we get on another bus back to Antibes and then, after waiting on the street next to a construction zone (grrrr) for another half hour, another bus back to Cagnes-sur-Mer. Home at last!!! We immediately pour ourselves a drink (Muscat for Scott, Pastis for me – I’m really starting to like this stuff) and settle down with a book. A couple more glasses of wine, a bit of dinner, some music (George Michael followed by Nat King Cole), and then…ahhhh…bed.
Staying PUT today – maybe wandering down to the beach but that’s ALL!! I really mean it!! Except dinner which, for our last night in France (sniff, sniff, cry) we’ve booked a reservation for at Fleur de Sel just up the street (which we initially found on the internet and HAVE to go to!) and is oh-so-romantic! Hopefully we’re in the mood for it after yesterday??
Breakfast now and reading all day in the sun, smelling the roses (haha – we’re literally stopping to smell the roses!!) and snoozing.
Next stop – Italy!
(Oh by the way – this guy – says his name is Cedric, stowed away in my bag – sneaky bugger.)
Scott, gnomist that he is, is not impressed.
Bonjour! I am writing from the terrace at 9:00 in the morning. The sun is shining and the temperature is already 28 degrees (it’ll be a scorcher and it’s the hottest day yet). Scott just made his wonderful eggs benedict and we’re happily full and enjoying coffee now.
Haut de Cagnes is pure magic – it’s a medieval hill town built around the Grimaldi castle (not THE Grimaldi castle – that’s in Monaco) so the streets are cobble-stoned, steep and narrow. Around every corner is an enchanting alley-way or street leading to little shops, restaurants and amazing views. At the castle itself there are restaurants that look over the entire valley which at night twinkles with the lights of the houses below. We’ve spent lots of time just exploring around and being delighted. Oh and there are cats everywhere! No idea why but you can’t go anywhere without practically tripping over one or two. The most amazing thing? People actually LIVE in the castle itself – in little apartments with individual doors – some so small a person of 5′ 6″ would have to duck to get in. There are some for sale…I always wanted to live in a castle, princess that I am.
Yesterday, we had our usual coffee and croissant (well Scott had a chevre croque monsier) and then toodled down the river, watching the ducks and fish, to the beach. There are restaurants (brasseries) serving seafood on the beach and renting beach chairs for 10-12 euro. Scott saw his first pair of naked suntanned boobs! It was a moment. On the way back Scott saw a french woman riding a scooter wearing a dress with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth while adjusting her bra – ‘tres Francais! Somehow I missed it.
After the beach we walked back to town and got groceries at the Intermarche (supermarket) – not your Canadian grocery store! Fresh (and I mean fresh!) eggs and St. Agur in the regular cheese isle for 3 euros!!! And loads of loads of wine – can’t get over how CHEAP a good bottle of wine is. We are in foodie heaven. But, we’re working it all off with all the walking (uphill) we’re doing!
We then came back to our home away from home (which we are still totally in love with) had lunch and siesta before heading out to Vence. Big disappointment there. Traffic, open air goods market selling crappy but expensive goods, and the old town was dirty and crowded. Ick. Oh well! Everywhere can’t be beautiful! We also missed going to the Chappelle de Rosaire – Matisses last masterpiece – he was trying to find the meaning of life in the religious experience of adorning it – by 15 minutes. Boo.
However, we did find some fresh tagliatelle and grana padano for a nice pasta using up our poulet roti from the day before. Then another walk up to the castle (sighhh), and a sit in the garden with wine, candles lit, music and the gorgeous view.
Today we’re off to Nice! On the bus – Scott attempted driving to and from Vence again yesterday, once again sweating in fear that he’d hit something – so no more driving until Italy!! (THAT should be interesting as we’ve heard driving in Italy is even worse.) We’ll be seeing the Cours Saleya (another market! what a shock!), the Marche aux Fleurs, the Promenade Anglaise beside the beach, and the Jardin Albert and maybe an art museum if we aren’t too exhausted. Tonight we might try walking down to the beach for seafood beside the sea.
Mmmmmm…life is GOOD here and the prices of houses are comparable to Calgary! We’re thinking a little apartment with a terrace and a view and a pool in the courtyard…which you can get for around 130,000 euros! On the French Riviera – can you imagine??
(PS – we haven’t downloaded the most recent pics yet but more pics next time!)
Salut! until next time…