Thursday, September 22, 2011

France 2011

We spent the 2nd half of our vacation in southern France.  The weather was great, only one day of rain.  And it was cooler than Italy and much drier.  We had a great time and I'm glad the pace of our trip slowed down a bit.

Saturday morning we left Venice early.  Our Easy Jet flight from Venice to Lyon left at 7:55 am but we left the hotel at 5:30 am.  The Marco Polo Airport outside of Venice is very nice and pretty new.  We lucked out, the Easy Jet flight wasn't full and it was a sunny day, so we had good views during the flight.  Lyon is a fairly small airport, 10 or so miles out of town.  It has a brand new fancy train station attached, so all we had to do was pick up our luggage and walk over to catch our train.  We had a couple of hours to kill, but that was OK.  The train south was very crowded, but we had reserved seats, so we got into Avignon on time about 1:30 pm.

The car rental started out as bit of a pain.  We used AutoEurope and they booked us a couple of cars with National/Citer.  Since we'd arrived at the old downtown train station we had to take a taxi out to the airport to pick up our cars.  It turns out that the Avignon airport is a small regional airport and was closed when we arrived.  We found a phone number (boy am I glad my smart phone worked well during our trip) and called their main office.  Then we had to wait about an 1.5 hours for the agent to drive out with our keys.  I really wish we'd been told just to go to the Avignon TGV train station where they have an office that's open all day.  But once we got on the road, things went pretty well.  We followed the instructions, more or less and found our way north to Venesque where we'd rented the 2  connected houses.  ( thanks Elizabeth for all your help).  Boy was the view from up on top amazing.  Here are a couple of pics I took from the parking lot.

We stopped in St. Didier for a few groceries, and a couple of bottles of wine (well a couple of bottles and a 5 liter plastic jug :-).  Once we got settled and unpacked, we had a nice dinner and just relaxed.  The view from up on top of the hill was beautiful, between the 2 houses we had 2 kitchens, 2 living rooms, 4 bedrooms with their own baths, and 2 more bedrooms that shared a bath.  Lots of room to spread out which was nice.
Sunday morning we tried to get moving early, but it was 9:30 am by the time we got out of town and headed for L'Isle Sur la Sorgue and their Sunday market.  It was pretty packed, so we set up a meeting point and wandered around.  Lots and lots of stuff to look at, but I mostly was interested in stocking up on groceries.  Bread, cheese, olives, fruits and vegis and an assortment of sausage.  Mmmmm...  We had a great lunch (a bit expensive but still great) and then headed home.  A little wine in the garden, then Linda and Mary made us a vegi lasagna for dinner.  It really was a good day.
Monday was a quiet day, we mostly stayed close to home and rested.  I spent a couple of hours sitting in the garden reading, which was really great.  Mon night Linda and I drove into Avignon and picked up Shari and Val.  They arrived on the 11:15 pm train from Venice/Lyon.

Tue we had a late start.  It's a bit hard to get this big of a group all headed in the same direction :-).  But we took both cars and drove through Gordes.  Cute town that has been totally rebuilt.  Then we went to a nearby Abbe and wandered around for a while.  Then we drove over to Rousillion for lunch and to check out the Ocher mine.  The colors of the soil was pretty amazing to see.  It's been used as a pigment for centuries.
The road was a bit stressful.  Lots an lots of switchback, no shoulders and idiots on bikes.
Wed we all went into Avignon and checked out the Place of the Popes.   We spent a couple of hours in one of the museums and then had lunch at a restaurant in the main square.  It was hot, so instead of hiking to a tower across the river, I found an Internet cafe and cleared out old e-mail. We didn't get the wi fi at the house working until Thur evening.

Thur was another mostly quiet day.  Went for a walk around the village in the morning.  The village used to be surrounded by small terraced private gardens.  There are a few being maintained but most are very over grown.  We found a lot of squash and fruit trees that were growing mostly wild.  And a few old ruined houses built under the limestone overhangs.

Then we decided to head toward Mount Ventoux.  We stopped in a small town for a great lunch, but then decided to split up.  Lowry took the folks wanting to go up the mountain and I drove the group going to visit a couple of wineries :-).
Friday almost everyone stayed home, but Mom, Val and I drove down to NimesNimes was a pain, but we made it.  We stopped at the Pont du Gard on our way back to Venesque.

Saturday I stayed home in the morning and did some laundry, etc.  Then we went to lunch over in St. Didier and walked around Le Beaucet looking for Penny and Val.  Le Beaucet is an old medieval village.  The older houses are build under the cliff, very interesting to see.
Sunday I got up early and took Linda and Lowry to the train station in Avignon.  Their train left at 7:12 am for Amsterdam.  It was pouring rain on the way back, so I stopped in Monteaux at a bakery and got breakfast for everyone.  Boy it smelled good with all those goodies fresh out of the oven :-).  I really liked the small bakeries in each of the town, much more fun and better products, than going to a big grocery store.

Late Sunday morning the rain let up and we decided to drive up to Chateauneuf du Pape for lunch.  It was still overcast and we got there late so almost everything was closed.  It was also the first day anyone felt cold.  After lunch we went into Orange to see the Roman Theater (very interesting) and a Roman Arch.  Then it was time to head home and get everything cleaned up and packed.
Monday was sunny, but rather windy.  We got going fairly early and were out on the road by 9:45 AM.  I really didn't want to drive south on the A7 so we took secondary road and headed toward Marseille.  We got there just fine, the MRS airport is a quite a way out of town, which was fine with me.   I didn't want to get stuck in city traffic.  We found a hotel right at the airport, and then drove down to Carry le-Rouet for lunch.  It's a small town right on the water.  We had lunch at restaurant on the harbor.  Good food and a great view.  A nice way to wrap up our trip.  We got back to the airport about 6 pm, and turned in the cars.  That went well so we got a couple of bottles of wine and sat around in the hotels breakfast room, chatting and looking at pictures for a couple of hours.
Tue we were up early.  Mom, me, Penny and Virg left the hotel at 3:45 am.  The shuttle driver didn't start until 5 am so we had to walk, but it really wasn't very far.  Just across a big parking lot.  After checking in we tried to get coffee at the airport, but none of the restaurants or shops opened until 6 am, which was too late.  By then we were boarding.  We flew to Frankfurt, had breakfast there and then caught our Condor flight back to Anchorage.  Once we got on board, we were delayed an hour due to the fog and other late flights.  But it wasn't too bad.  The flight to Anchorage wasn't too crowded, which was nice.  We got into Anchorage only an hour late, and picked up my car and headed home.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Last vacation meal....

This morning we had to check out of our houses in Venesque. We were on the road by 9:45 am. We stayed of the A7 and drove south to Marseille on secondary roads. We got checked in to our airport hotel and then drove south 30 Mon to Carry le Rouet for lunch. It is a tiny town on the coast with a small habit full of private boats. Sunny but very windy. We had a great long lunch before driving back to the airport and turning in the rental cars. We plan to meet in the lobby at 4 am
Here was the way I finished my last vacation meal...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Glace..Gelato...Ice Cream in Orange

Glace.....Gelato....Ice Cream in Orange...
We had quite the rain storm last night and this morning. The temp dropped at least 20 degrees. But its been really dry so I guess I'm glad we got the rain.
I got up and took Linda and Lowry to the train station in Avignon this am, we had to leave Venesque at 5:30 am. So after breakfast and a nap we decided to drive over to Orange and look at the old Roman theater. It was great. follow when I get home.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lunch in St. Didier

So I'm trying to figure out how to post to my blog through email from my phone. I hope it works. We are having a late lunch and a couple of beers.


I'm sitting here in Venesque France, it's just a wonderful morning.  Not too hot yet, and I'm trying to remember all the things we did in Venice last week.  It seems a long time ago, I guess that means this vacation has done what it was supposed too :-).

We were supposed to take the train from Ravenna to Venice at 11:30 am. But on Monday when I went to double check the train time, I found out that the train crews were going on strike. I've never really understood the scheduled strikes in Italy and France, but there has been at least one each time I've made a trip.
Anyway, the trains were going to be on strike Tue from 9 am to 5 pm, so our only train option was a 6:20 am. YUCK. I did a little searching on line and found a couple of bus transfer companies, but they were pretty expensive.  They really stick it too the cruise ship passengers who rely on these transfers. Then I talked to the front desk at our hotel. The lady working there found us an 8 passenger van that picked us up at 10:00 am and was 1/2 the cost of the other companies.  So keep that in mind when you are traveling.  I love booking things on line but the locals can often find you a better deal at the last minute.

I was a little worried about all our luggage, but it all fit. And the van had a/c and was very comfortable. It was a 2 hour trip from Ravenna to Venice which was a lot shorter than taking the train and changing in Bologna.  Venice was beautiful & sunny when we arrived.  We got dropped off in the bus parking lot and had to carry out luggage over the bridge and down to the train station plaza.  But what a wonderful sight, sunny skies & the Grand Canal.  And it was busy, people & boats every where.  We were a couple of hours early but our rooms were ready so we checked in and went to have lunch.  It was really HOT and a bit muggy so we didn't search too hard.  Ended up at a rather expensive and not so good place, but it worked out.  We did have some better meals later in our trip.

Wed morning we all met in the hotel breakfast room.  It was very small and the coffee was pretty bad, so we ended up going to Restaurant Brek the next few mornings.  Though we liked the location of Hotel Florida and the rooms were just fine.  Anyway, we had a guide set up for Wed morning.  Caterina met us at the hotel a 9:30 am and we wandered through the back streets, over to the Rialto Market.  (we found her using out Rick Steves guide to Venice :-).

We learned a lot about Venice from her, and we ended up at St. Marks.  She took us inside, it was nice to skip the long line and showed us around.  The mosaics inside are really beautiful, all 90,000 sq feet of them.  Mom didn't feel like walking but she and Mary took the Vapparetto over to St. Marks and met us there. 
After St. Marks we walked over to a small square by the hospital and had a nice long lunch.  Then we all split up and went different places. 

Thursday morning we got up and met at Brek for breakfast.  Then we bought Vapparetto passes and all went out to Murano.  I really like all the glass shops and Murano is a lot quieter than Venice.  It was a little overcast but muggy & hot.  We spent the day at Murano and all went back to Venice at different times.  But we met for dinner and had to say good-bye to Sachiko.  She was going back to Seattle early on Friday morning. 

Friday we all did different things.  I ended up going back to Murano with Linda and Lowry.  We got to see 2 glass blowing demonstrations which were very interesting.  Then after lunch I wandered around the between the train station & St. Marks, just looking around.  Linda had a nap, she has a bad cold.  Lowry got over to the art museum and got some amazing pictures.
Saturday morning we had an early flight from Marco Polo to Lyon with Easy Jet.  We ended up having a porter meet us at the hotel at 5:30 am and take us to meet a taxi van on the other side of the train station.  It was a fairly quick but very expensive taxi ride to the airport.  We'd tried to set up a water taxi but couldn't get anyone to commit to picking us up that early so we ended up in the van instead.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Sunday morning we took off for Ravenna.  The train trip across the mountains was great.  We had a nice dinner that night and Mon morning we walked up to the Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleo di Galla after breakfast.  Ravenna is known for it's Byzantine mosaics, and the examples we found in these 2 places were totally amazing.  I've always like the frescos, but they're usually really faded out.  But since the mosaics are made out of glass tiles and stone, they can get dirty but the color doesn't seem to fade.  And what amazing colors.  Lots and lots of gold leaf, greens and blues.  Even some great reds.  Some of the floors in the Basilica were re-done in the 1960's.  There wasn't a lot left to go by, but any floor needs new tile occationally :-).  The results were pretty great.
And the mausoleum for Galla Placidia is also amazing.  She was the sister to a Roman Emporer and mother to another.  I think she was actually buried in Rome, but the blues of the ceiling of her mausoleum are breathtaking. 

Then we wandered down to the Domus dei Tapetti di Pietra.  It's a museaum for mosaic'd floors found in Ravenna.  It has some really great things to see.

As you can see, I'm using amazing a lot.  I really liked Ravenna.  I could have spent another couple of days there.  We only went because Shari and Val are taking a week long mosaic course in Ravenna, but I'm really glad we got to wander around a look.

After lunch we did some more walking.  We saw another church and an art exhibit about how mosaics and glass tiles were made.  It was all very colorful and fun to see.  Then we had another nice dinner and packed up so we could depart for Venice in the morning.

Tuscany & Florence Part 2

We've been gone about 10 days and have really seen a lot.  I'm a bit behind with my blog so I'm trying to catch up before we go to France.

Sat Sept 2nd we did a lot of sightseeing in Florence.  We started out a the San Lorenzo market.  Mary & Virg got to spend some time looking at all the leather vendors.  They were looking for wallets and sandals. 

We also found the Medici burial chapel (Opera Medicea Laurenziana).  Wow, there was some amazing marble work inside, though photos weren't allowed.  Then we continued through the San Lorenzo Market and had lunch inside the food market.  What a great lunch, we all ordered a different item and shared.  It was great fun.
Then we went back to the apartment and picked up mom.  She was having a quiet morning at home.  We went over to the Pitti Palace, about 2 blocks from our apartment.  What a huge building.  Unfortunately most of the really old things were gone.  Bonaparte had the whole place remodeled when he conquered Florence.  But there was a lot to see and I really enjoyed the State Apartments.  We also did some walking in the garden but only saw a very small portion of it.
Sunday we got up early and took a couple of taxis to the train station.  We caught a small regional train from Florence to Faenza, instead of the fast train through Bologna.  We went up over the mountains, through some pretty wild area full of chestnut trees.  Down the other side it was all fruit orchards & and very flat.  We had a sandwich lunch in Faenza, waiting for the train to Ravenna.  I was really surprised that there was NO luggage storage.  We had 2 hours and I'd planned to check in our luggage and walk a few blocks into town to look around.  That was a bit of a bummer.

Anyway, we got into Ravenna about 2:30 pm.  It really wasn't too far to our hotel but we took a couple of taxis because we have a lot of luggage :-).  Shari & Val were waiting for us in a little cafe about 1/2 block from the hotel.  So we sat with them for a while and then did some exploring.  Linda & Lowry arrived a few hours later.  They had some trouble finding their hotel, but managed to meet up with us for dinner about 7:30 pm.  That was great fun, and the food was wonderful.  What a great first night in Ravenna. 

Water fountain at Pitti Palace
Our hotel was the Hotel Central Bryon.  Cute old place, but it was clean, had an elevator AND air conditioning.  It was HOT in Ravenna and had been HOT in Florence.  Upper 90's is too much for me these days.  So having A/C in Ravenna was great.  Plus their breakfast (included) was very good.  Quite a nice selection of breads,  rolls, sandwich meat, yogurt, cereal and of course, cappuccino.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Tuscany & Florence

Our trip to Italy and France started out pretty well. All 6 of us got to Florence on schedule. Sachiko's luggage was lost for 2 days but we all lent her a few things and her suitcase came in today.

Wed night we just went out to dinner and had some wine. Then Thur AM, Penny & Sachiko got up early and took a 12 hour tour of the Cinque Terre. What a beautiful tour they had, hiking part of it and taking a boat back.

Meanwhile Mary, Mom, Virg & I had a quick breakfast and walked across the Ponte Vecchio, up to the Piazza dela Signora and then to the Dumo. After looking around the Dumo for a bit we walked up to the Medici Chapels and checked them out. Then we went back to our apartment for lunch.

Mom decided the jet lag was still hanging on and she had a nap, but Mary, Virg and I walked over to Santa Croce and toured there for a couple of hours. A lot of the restoration that was going on in 2006 is done, but the whole front of the Nave is still under restoration. Guess I'll need to come back in 5 or 6 years to see how it comes out.

Then we walked back to the Dumo to see the inside of the Baptistery. I really love the mosaic'd ceiling in there.
Today we got up and had coffee, then met Luca (Hills & Roads) at 9:30 am. He took us out of town and toured around several small towns with medieval roots. We did a very nice wine tasting at Sant Appiane. Their wines were great and they were very nice people. They do rent rooms so a trip to stay in one of their apartments for a week would be great fun.

Then we went to lunch at San Leo. Patrice was great. All the food she served us comes from her 'farm'. She produces her own olive oil and honey, has a huge garden, and raises pigs. She also rents apartments. So many choices and so little time...argh!

Anyway, tomorrow we're off to a market and then to the Pitti Palace after lunch. It's been very hot, tomorrow should be 97 which is a bit much for this mostly Alaska group. But we're having a great time and I'll post some more pictures in a few days.