Thursday, October 26, 2017

One Day of Fall

I am a fall supremacist. I love all things fall- especially the beautiful trees and the chilly weather. Most humans would love and prefer the sunny weather of the French Riviera, but it makes me sad that we don't have changing seasons here. 

We were expecting to be home in time for Wisconsin's beautiful fall, but that didn't happen (and doesn't look like it will anytime soon..). I had to make do instead with the next best thing: fall in the Alps. Earlier in October we went on a drive through the mountains to see some fall colors. Having one day of my favorite season was better than nothing!

The best part of our excursion was stopping at the Mère-Eglise, a small 11th century church on top of a mountain. You know, this place is only about 600 years older than my country.

We've almost run out of things to see here on the Riviera, but not quite! Last weekend we explored Eze for the first time.

Eze is a village near Monaco, and we're pretty sure that on our way there we drove down the scary cliff road where Princess Grace crashed and died. This is how I learned that David doesn't know the difference between Princess Grace and Princess Diana. Maybe I should be happy that my husband doesn't obsess over princesses like me ;)

The village is perched on a hill. It was a bit of a hike to get to the top of the village, but it was worth it! 

The Jardin Exotique is at the very top of the hill. It has some castle ruins, lots of cactuses, and these amazing views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding mountains.

We (okay, mostly me) enjoyed the cute little streets in town and the small Italian-style church.

I had my eyes peeled, and did spot a few more little touches of fall in the village- in the form of pretty ivy.

It's not Wisconsin and I can't get my pumpkin shake from Culver's... but like I've said before, southern France is really not a terrible place to call home while we wait for immigration.

Next year, Wisconsin! I promise.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nazis and Puppies

I had been feeling a little stir-crazy and sad about not having anything to do/anywhere to go last week. So imagine my happiness when David came home on Thursday night declaring that he didn't have to work the next day... and that we should go visit a concentration camp together instead! That is not his idea of fun, so it was really nice that he thought about me on his unexpected day off.

The Camp des Milles is just outside of Aix-en-Provence, about 1.5 hours away. The building was a former tile factory. It served 3 different purposes during WWII. 

Before the French defeat, it was a prison for "enemy" civilians (a.k.a. Germans). Ironically, most German civilians in France in 1939/40 were actually anti-Nazi and had come to France to escape the Nazis.

After the French waved the white flag, Les Milles became an internment camp for Jews.  For a few years, inmates could try to immigrate abroad. We sympathized when we read about the mountain of paperwork desperate people tried to complete to be allowed to leave France. Not to say that we're living in a concentration camp. But we do have lots of frustrating paperwork.

By 1942, immigration became impossible. At that point, Les Milles was used as a "waiting room" for Auschwitz. About 2,000 French Jews were sent from Les Milles, to Drancy (near Paris), and then to their deaths in Poland. This camp was completely run by the French Vichy regime and not the Nazis. It was actually in the "Free Zone" not occupied by the Nazis until later in the war.

Train tracks that are just outside
As expected, inmates in Les Milles were kept in terrible conditions. One window upstairs was marked with a plaque that said it was used by many people to jump out of and commit suicide. It was 65 degrees and windy outside when visited, and it was cold and drafty inside... I can only imagine what it was like in the winter.

Room for female prisoners
The creepiest aspect was that the male prisoners slept in OVENS in the basement. Since the building used to be a tile factory, there are rows and rows of huge kilns.

There was a lot of graffiti left behind by the inmates. This one says- freedom, life, peace."

We were surprised by how great the museum was. There was so much information and so many pictures and videos. Here are a few disturbing propaganda posters that were displayed.

"The bad days are over! Daddy's making money in Germany!"

About 1 million French citizens were sent to the Reich as forced/slave laborers during the war. One of them was David's grandpa.

"Tuberculosis, syphilis, and cancer are treatable. We must finish off the greatest plague: the Jew."

The top floor of the museum was devoted to the theme of how something like the Holocaust could have happened, and how to prevent future genocides. It was very well done! They presented a lot of the same studies that we talked about in my "Psychological Explanations of the Holocaust" class in Israel (Milgram, Zimbardo, etc).

I was impressed that there was not ONE mention of Charles de Gaulle at this place. In most French history classes/books/museums, you will see 1000 mentions of the famous Resistance leader and 0 mentions of Philippe Pétain, the head of the Nazi collaborationist government. #Soproud they didn't gloss over France's role in this tragedy.

So... awkward transition time. Friday was about Nazis, but Saturday was about PUPPIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really should have done this in separate blog posts, but too late.

I am so puppy hungry it's not even funny. I want one so bad, but dogs aren't allowed in our apartment. Otherwise I would have 100% adopted a French dog and had it immigrate with us to America. 

When I saw an ad for a puppy fair in the next town over, I knew we HAD to go to help me get my puppy fix.

The only disappointment wasn't that it wasn't a petting zoo. You weren't allowed to touch the puppies unless you were buying one. They were too young to have had all of their vaccinations, so it wouldn't have been safe. I was sad, but happy they cared about the puppies' health.

Um, I did touch one subtly though. It looked really soft and was in a cage all alone. It licked me as a thank-you.

Did that make you feel better after the Holocaust stuff? It did for me, too.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Under the Tuscan Rain

Since the Cinque Terre towns are small, we had enough time during our long weekend to see what we wanted to there and spend a day driving to Tuscany and back.

David wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa for the first time. I wanted to see something that was new to me, so I took Jenna's advice (she spent a semester studying in Siena), to visit San Gimignano.

Driving through the Tuscan countryside was BEAUTIFUL. It was 2 hours of green, rolling hills, vineyards, and cute towns. I felt a little bit like we were in a movie. I've really enjoyed getting to drive through Europe this year instead of only taking trains- you get to see a lot more this way!

San Gimignano is nicknamed the "Medieval Manhattan" due to all of the tall towers that make up its skyline. 

We walked through the medieval streets in search of lunch. 

There were plenty of tourist shops lining the streets. It looks like the specialty souvenir from this area is hand-painted pottery. It seems like everywhere in Italy has a specialty craft. Venice has glass, Florence has leather, etc.

When we sat down to lunch, the waiter took one look at David's American flag t-shirt and explained in slow, condescending English that it wasn't a fast-food restaurant. If only he knew he was actually French, from the land of slow food (and rude waiters, lol).

I don't hold a grudge though... I'm guessing that a ton of American tourists have complained to him in the past about the speed of their cooking and that might get annoying. The food was good and homemade, so there's that.

Unfortunately it was raining by the time we finished our lunch, so we didn't get to explore as much afterwards as we wanted to. I did my best to awkwardly balance my umbrella while taking pictures. 

Apparently there is a Gelato World Championships, and one of said World Champion Gelaterias is in San Gimignano. We couldn't leave without trying some! I have to say that it wasn't the BEST gelato I've ever had, but it was respectable. 

On our way out of the city, we walked down the Punto Panoramico and got some great views of the surrounding countryside.

After an hour in the car, we pulled into Pisa! Right away we were accosted by people trying to sell us crappy souvenirs. Pisa is the definition of a tourist trap.

But I understand why. Seeing the tower, cathedral, and baptistery are all really worth the trip! My favorite part of visiting Pisa is people watching while everyone takes awkward pictures pretending to hold up the tower. When I came here with Jenna in 2013, we spent at least an hour observing. I have lots of funny stalker pictures on that blog post (click to make fun of people with me).

We were a little short on time to see everything before they closed, so no stalker pictures from this trip. We did get some of us, though :)

Old married couple! #oneyeardown

Did you know that the Tower of Pisa is centuries older than Machu Picchu? I do now, thanks to my aunt's comment on my Facebook post. They started building the tower in the 1100s and it was finished about 200 years later. It started leaning almost right away because the foundation wasn't sturdy enough. 

They did a lot of stabilizing work in the 90s/00s, so now it's expected to be around for at least another few hundred years. Until they worked on restoring it, it was leaning more and more every year. Even though it's stopped moving, we still didn't feel the need to make the climb to the top.

The cathedral (and especially its ceiling) is impressive on its own. 

I was very excited to eat PIZZA on a PIAZZA in PISA (see what I did there) for dinner. And yes, that is a pizza with nothing more than white sauce and mozzarella cheese. It's a picky eater's dream food.

It was cool to see the area at sunset and after it got dark out. The crowds of tourists and people aggressively selling stuff were gone, but the great views were still there!

La Spezia turned out to be a great base for exploring more of Italy. Here's a picture of me awkwardly posing on our Airbnb balcony with the fancy porcelain tea set I was excited about.

Grazie, Italy, for the great weekend!