Tuesday, August 29, 2017

3 Countries, 3 Days- Riviera style

My feet hurt. Why, you ask? Over the last ten days, I’ve walked over 75 miles around Europe. And I obviously didn’t wear sensible walking shoes.

My good friend Elvera wanted to do some traveling before starting grad school, so travel we did. 

After picking her up at the Nice airport, we started out by showing her around our area. There was the obligatory visit to the La Napoule castle followed by a ride on the tourist sightseeing train in Cannes. Afterwards we stayed late in Cannes to catch a fireworks show. 

The next city on our agenda was Nice. Our first stop was this Russian Orthodox cathedral- not something you'd expect to find in France! This was built for the numerous Russian expats that came to Nice in search of sun. And fun fact- it was financed by Anastasia's dad, the last tsar of Russia.

We also visited 3 baroque-style churches, a 16th century mansion, and ate some good Italian food and great gelato. Most of the local cuisine in Nice leans much more Italian than French- it did used to be part of Italy, after all (wasn't definitely part of France until 1860).
Palais Lascaris
Continuing that theme, we started out Thursday pretty adventurously- by taking a train to Italy. Ventimiglia is the closest town to the French border. We basically stepped directly out of the train station and into a gelato shop. We have excellent priorities.

Note the Elvera-sized door.
We both liked the old town of Ventimiglia. It’s not touristy at all and has interesting winding streets (more like alleyways) all set on a hill with a Mediterranean view.

Our day was not over- Menton was our next destination. It was a new city for me! Menton is in France, sandwiched between Monaco and Italy. It’s supposed to be the warmest and sunniest place in France. From the looks of things, it’s also one of the ritziest. 

Our calves might have already been burning a bit from Ventimiglia, but that didn’t deter us from hiking to the top of Menton’s old city. We climbed to the cathedral and were confused to see multiple bouquets of flowers. Then the casket and funeral procession came out of the church, while we awkwardly stood there and watched as it was loaded into the hearse. It was interesting to note that the French don’t seem to dress up for funerals. This is odd considering they usually dress nicely even to run out to the grocery store.

Don’t worry, we waited until the coffin was out of sight before snapping these pictures. I can't choose which ones to post, so you're going to have to see them all.

We were eventually able to venture into the church. My first thought was that I wouldn’t mind having my own funeral here. Elvera mentioned that I could start the trend of destination funerals. Our conversations are always this normal, I promise.

Our last day trip from France was to Monaco on Friday. After visiting the Princess Grace Garden, we stuck to the traditional Monaco sightseeing route (palace, cathedral, casino). 

The funny thing we noticed about Monaco on this trip was a slight difference in culture. They seem to value customer service a bit more than the French and Italians. It's pretty common for French and Italian people to try to make you feel guilty for making them do their jobs. 

For example, they can be dramatic when you don't give them exact change and they have to open their cash register and count it out. In Monaco, I had to have 2 different people break a 20. This gives me anxiety in France. But in both cases this day, they did it with a smile! Most likely because in Monaco, they're used to breaking 100s haha.

As you can see, it was a busy week of sightseeing even before we hopped on a plane. Coming up next- our trip to southern Italy!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Beach Weekend with the Rubinos

Two weekends ago David’s parents invited us to join them on their beach vacation. David had a long weekend, so we were happy to spend Saturday-Monday with them in Narbonne.

The Rubinos rented an Airbnb right on the beach. Where we live in Cannes, we have a whole 10 minute walk to the beach. So long, right? It felt luxurious to basically open the door and be right there!

Narbonne is a 4 hour drive west of the Riviera (longer if there’s traffic- it took us 7 hours on the way there). It’s not too far from the Spanish border or from Carcassonne, where we visited a few months ago.

There was finer, whiter sand and much wider beaches than we have in Cannes, but unfortunately the water temperature was nowhere near as nice. We now understand why tourists flock to the crowded Riviera beaches.

On Sunday morning, we barely made it all the way in the water. It was painfully cold. When it didn’t warm up in the afternoon, we opted for a little sightseeing instead of another swim.

Narbonne’s Gothic cathedral is famous because it was never finished. France’s Wars of Religion interrupted the construction, so it's not as big as originally planned. I still thought it was decently impressive.

I've heard people complain before that France's medieval cathedrals can seem a bit plain and depressing with their dark gray stone walls. Well, guess what... they didn't start out that way. Most cathedrals from this era were painted with bright and colorful patterns- they just didn't last through the centuries. I found some paint hanging on and zoomed in for a picture. It's hard to imagine the whole cathedral painted like this. Even the exteriors of these churches used to be covered in colors.

Some churches are better preserved and still look somewhat like they used to. I loved this small church in Strasbourg.

There's your history lesson of the day! Personally, I don't mind the gray. I like being able to get a feel for how old these places are. 

Before leaving Narbonne, we stopped by the cathedral’s cloisters and the Archbishop’s Palace.

I was very surprised to step out of the palace courtyard and suddenly be transported into Germany! A polka band was playing “Roll out the Barrel” and men in lederhosen were dancing. In the tents surrounding the square, they were selling pretzels, beer, and apple strudel.

Somehow it all reminded me of Wisconsin and made me happy. I love stumbling across random events like this.

The area where we stayed, Narbonne-Plage, was really a vacation town. It was filled with restaurants and fun things for kids. We had a nice walk along the beach after dinner.

On Monday either the water warmed up or we got braver. All 4 of us made it in the sea for a nice swim before we had to drive back home.

The next day, my good friend Elvera was showing up at the Nice airport and we had to be ready! We’ve been traveling ever since. I'm currently flying somewhere over Germany on my way back to France after a great week in Italy and Denmark. Many more adventures and pictures to come on the blog :)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Castles, lavender, and a concert in Provence

Way back in November, David bought tickets for a concert at the Théâtre Antique d'Orange. Orange is a small town near Avignon. We decided to make a weekend of it and also do some more sightseeing in the area.

Our first stop was Les Baux-de-Provence. Our GPS liked to pronounce it 'The BOO of Provence' instead of Baux (sounds like bo). That resulted in David learning a new slang word. Now he won't stop calling me his boo hahaha.

It should have been 2 hours away from Cannes, but it ended up being more like 3 after a bad accident caused traffic to completely stop on the highway for 45 minutes. A car flipped over and burst into flames inside a tunnel!!

Thankfully we made it safely to our destination, but things stopped going well the second we got out of the car. It has typically been in the mid to high 80s in Cannes, which is HOT when you don't have air-conditioning. However, that's nothing compared to the 105 degrees we felt when we stepped out the car in Les Baux.

Silly me, I honestly thought it would be cooler in Provence since it's a few hours north of where we live. Nope. I guess we have the sea breeze to thank for keeping it cooler in Cannes.

We still persevered and walked into town from the parking lot. This town has officially been named one of the 'most beautiful villages of France.' The awful weather made it harder to enjoy, but I was still happy to see the quaint little village and amazing views.

View of Les Baux de Provence

It might have been a mistake, but we also paid to go explore the castle ruins. It was definitely impressive but unfortunately we didn't last too long. 

Castle ruins in Les Baux de Provence

The last straw for us was climbing up a tall tower for the view. We never recovered after that and had to start making our way back to the car before we DIED. We bought water bottles at the exit and both finished ours before reaching the car. I honestly don't know how I made it through 8 hour field trips in heat like that during my Jerusalem study abroad days. Probably because back in 2013 I was still in my youth.

View of fields from Les Baux de Provence
                             The view that almost killed us.

After about an hour of happily blasting the AC in the car, we reached Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This town is surrounded by vineyards and is famous for its wine. We weren't really up for more walking, but we did get out to snap a picture of this castle. The Château des Fines Roches is both a winery and a very fancy hotel.

Chateau des Fines Roches in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Our own, much less cool hotel, was about 10 minutes away. After checking in we headed to Orange to pick up our tickets. With almost 3 hours to kill before the concert, we had one mission: find a restaurant with air-conditioning. 

It was harder than it sounds. The vast majority of restaurants in southern France are open-air. Everyone except for us seems to love eating outside. Even when we finally found a place with an indoor section, several people CHOSE to sit outside on the terrace. Crazies.

Although classical music is not really my thing, I enjoyed the concert of Holst's 'The Planets.' Sitting in an ancient Roman theater made it more exciting for me. They also projected NASA images of space during the show.

Before heading out on Saturday morning, we stopped to see the Triumphal Arch in Orange. This was also built by the Romans during the period of Caesar Augustus!

Arc de Triomphe d'Orange

David had to comment that the French medieval castle in Les Baux was crumbling while the Roman theater and arch that were built 12 centuries earlier are still going strong. I think that's his dad's Italian pride coming out. 

If you read my last post, you know that I've been on a quest to see the lavender fields of Provence. We tried last week in Valensole but we were too late. I scoured the internet and found a town called Sault that has a higher altitude, and therefore has lavender that blooms later in the season.

Sault, France

It was a beautiful hour-long drive in the mountains, and we were rewarded at the end. I finally got to see my lavender. There were swarms of bees but I still managed to get some pictures. And it smelled great! 

La Ferme aux Lavandes in Sault, France

Dancing in the Sault lavender fields

Sault, France

As were were driving, I was convinced at first this was snow on top of the mountain! As we got closer I was proved wrong- it's just dirt.

Mount Ventoux en été

Our next stop was the Abbaye de Sénanque, about an hour south. It is a 12th-century abbey surrounded by lavender. It wasn't nearly as in bloom or purple as Sault, but it was still a beautiful setting.

Abbaye de Sénanque in August

Abbaye de Sénanque

Before making our way home we drove through a town called Gordes. If we'd had better weather we probably would have walked around, but it was still nice to get a feel for it and stop for a picture.

View of Gordes

Despite the heat, we both loved our weekend- me for the sightseeing, and David for his concert.