Sunday, October 30, 2011

Home Again!

At the Nice Airport, there is a parking lot for Depose minute; Kiss and Fly.
It took 19 hours from the time we left the hotel in Roissy until we walked through our front door in Tucson, which is pretty amazing when you thing about it.  The flight was over clouds from the time we left Paris until we landed in Dallas, except for flying over Greenland! 


The east coast of Greenland with the first glacier to be seen.

This glacier is huge!  I loved the way everything looked so pristine.  The sun made the ice and snow sparkle.
Even though it was midday, the sun is so far south, the mountains cast long shadows.

It feels good to be home.  It will feel even better when we adjust to the time change!  There are still two weeks worth of posts to do on our wonderful house sit in Nice, so stay tuned.
Thanks to American Airlines AAirmiles, our round trip was only $199.20  for BOTH of us!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Monaco

The hills of Monaco are built up with ugly highrise apartment buildings.
The road to Monaco is a  spectacular drive along the coast with steep cliffs on one side and steep drops to the sea, on the other.  After parking the car and taking the elevator to the sunshine, Bill asked me what I thought. "This has to be one of the ugliest cities I've ever seen!"  Monaco looks like a crazy person was in charge of the building permit department.  The hills are a jumble of big, ugly highrises piled one on top of the other. No interesting architecture, not continuity of design, just ugly.  Fortunately, we were by the harbor which is very nice and full of beautiful yachts.
The setting is spectacular, but unfortunately, they let building happen with what looks like no prior planning.

We saw more expensive cars per square meter than anywhere else we have ever visited. 

The Grimaldi's palace overlooks it all.  It's good to be King, ok, Prince.
Walking to the casino, we came across an area called the star.  It's a garden built on top of a hotel, facing the sea.   The plants are beautiful and well maintained, but since this is one of the riches countries in the world, all 2 square kilometers of it, that is to be expected.  If you are a resident of Monaco, you pay no taxes on anything, but the majority of people who live here are not official residents. 
The Casino at Monte Carlo is quite a lovely building surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Adam and Eve in the garden in Monte Carlo.

The Casino reflected in an art piece entitled, Sky Disc.  This is the view of the back of the disc, the front focuses on the sky and is not rippled.
If you don't want to gamble ( and they charge you 10 euro to enter the gambling part of the casino!), then you can go window shopping.  They have all the big buck names.  We especially enjoyed Cartier's windows.
A Cartier watch with a few diamonds and rubies thrown in for good measure.  I don't know why Bill wouldn't buy this for me, after all, rubies are my birthstone.

After walking all around and up, Monaco is built in a bowl, so there is a lot of up, we decided to sit down and enjoy a cold brew.  The Cafe de Paris had a wonderful undershade area on the front where we found a table and ordered two tall ones.  We did not ask the price, deciding it would be the only time we would visit Monaco.  The beer was tasty and very cold.  Relaxing in the shade was very refreshing.  When the bill came it was 13 euro each for the drinks.  We enjoyed it very much.
This necklace also had a matching ring and earrings.  We did not ask the prices of these, either.

Beautiful gardens with fountains surround the casino area.

With a boat this size, you could bring all your family and friends.  This is just the outdoor area, wonder what the inside looks like?
Leaving Monaco, the road went over the mountain via switchbacks; extremely sharp, steep switchbacks. There was one so sharp, I couldn't turn the wheels with one hand, but I also needed to shift the gears at the same time.  That was an interesting sensation.  I would have felt like I was in a James Bond movie, except our little deisel Opal was not an Aston Martin!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Perched Villages

The view across the valley from Gourdon.
In this part of France there are several perched villages, meaning they are built on top and around the top of a mountain.  It makes them very difficult to get to, impossible to attack, and rarely were they able to be defeated in battle, as long as they had water.  Gourdon is one of the more spectacular sited ones.  The road up is full of switchbacks and very steep.  When you arrive, there is parking lot, as cars are not allowed in the village.  The roads in the village are too narrow for car, anyway!
It really is perched on the side of the mountain.
The day we visited, the combination of fog and smog made the views not as good.  You could still see enough to know it was an amazing vista.  There were several hang gliders floating around enjoying the updrafts.  They certainly looked to be having a great time!

This guy kept flying on the main square showing off for the tourists.

The second village was St Paul en Vence.  It isn't on as high a mountain, or as difficult to drive to.  St Paul is also much bigger.  There was a large church and lots of shopping.  The walk ways were neatly paved and easy to walk.  This village was really geared for tourists to come and spend their money.  Even so, it's a cool place to be.
St Paul en Vence is a larger village and not on as high a hill.

St Paul keeping watch.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Musee Renoir

Renoir's olive orchard.
The house where Renoir spent the last years of his life is now the Musee Renoir.  The land was a producing olive orchard, a working farm, not like Monet's flower gardens.  Renoir suffered from rhumatoid arthritis.  He painted by taping the brush to his hand.  The sculptures you see, were designed by him, but another artist did the actual work, with Renoir sitting by him, saying move this, more here, less here.  It must have been frustrating for him and the other artist as well.  There was no picture taking allowed inside the house, although we couldn't see any reason why. The house is not in very good repair, maybe that's why no pictures.

Renoir mentored young artists.  There were always several living with the family, some for so long the rooms are named after them.  When they were putting the museum together, these same artists donated their works that were finished at the house, or pictures they did of Renoir, or even items he had given them.  Renoir does come across as one of the good guys of art.
The walkway from the back of the house into the gardens.
 The museum closed from noon to 2.  We had left the house and were wandering around the gardens, when a woman came and told us we had to leave.  We didn't realize they closed the gardens as well!  So, where we could take pictures, there wasn't time to take pictures.  Oh well.
The only stature we had time to take a picture of.

Our Apartment in Cagnes-sur-Mer

Apero time on the balcony.

View across the street.

Looking west down the beach.
We really did not want to stay in a hotel.  There were no gites nearby, so we rented an apartment for the week for 250 euros.  It was on the second floor (3rd in American) with a balcony over looking the sea.  Ok, there was a road between us and the sea, but we chose to ignore it.  The main room was combo living/dining, with a tiny little kitchen to one side.  Behind sliding doors was the bedroom with a big closet. The bathroom was also large, with a seperate WC, where the washing machine was hooked up.
Dining area.  The dishes were stored in the small buffet.

The coin cuisine (small kitchen) in an alcove off the living room.
It was a very comfortable place to stay.  The only bad thing was no internet, but we survived.  They did have a coffee pot! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

On The Road to Cagnes-sur-Mer

On the center divider for Cours Mirabeau, the prettiest thing about the street.

A very traditional French style fountain.

Built on a shady corner, a fountain that cascades.

Locals enjoying a fountain.
On the road from Arles to Cagnes-sur-Mer, there are two interesting towns to visit.  Aix-en-Provence is known as the town of fountains.  Every square, most intersections, and sometimes just for fun, there is a fountain.  Some are very old, some extremely modern.  The disappointment of Aix was how dirty it was.  In most French town the sidewalks are washed on a daily basis.  Aix's haven't been washed in ages.  The Cours Maribeau, which is described as one of the most beautiful streets anywhere, is covered in bird poop and doggie bombs.  Even the cafes are dirty looking.  We didn't stay as long as we thought we would.


It's not a particularly pretty building, but......

...the organ is spectacular!
We stopped along the way at St-Maximin-la-Ste-Baume.  The cathedral is not very pretty to my eyes, but it's considered the best example of a Northern Gothic building in France. It's old, 13th century, with several "remodels" along the way.  It's main claim to fame is Mary Magdalene, yes, that one.  After she moved from Israel to France with the other Marys (see past post on Ste. Maries de la Mer), she and Maximus moved to this area.  Her bones were found in 1279.  Now her skull is kept in the crypt of the church, resplendent in a golden crown.
Down in the crypt, behind a beautiful gilded door you will find her.

The skull of Mary Magdalean in her golden crown-like helmet.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cote d'Azur


The beach at Cagnes-sur-Mer

This isn't the best of pictures, but it does show the line of color change from light to deeper blue.

Lovely ladies on the beach.  They didn't seem to mind the rocks.
Azur is the color of the sea here.  It changes from a light blue near the shore, to varying shades of deeper blue the farther out you look.  The beaches are not sandy, but rocky.  There are still folks sitting and sunbathing on them, but I don't see how it can be comfortable, it's even hard to walk on! 

Optis in a row, follow the leader.

Hobie 16
The French government subsidizing sailing schools for youths.  There is a very active one in Gagnes-sur-Mer, with boats from small optis for the little kids to bigger catamarans for the teenagers.  They were out sailing most days.  I don't know if it's considered a sport for school credit or and extra curricular activity.  Either way, France is turning out a lot of sailors.

I planted these same hibiscus in our front yard in New Orleans.
The climate here is mediterranean, which means it's hot and dry in the summers and rains in the winter.  The plants are gorgeous!  Even in October, the bougainvillas and  hibiscus are in full glory, such vibrant colors.
Other plants that we think of as potted plants are growing huge outside, even the banana has fruit!
Euphorbia in front of a building in our apartment complex.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nimes

Maison Carree at sunrise.
Nimes has the most impressive collection of Roman buildings still standing anywhere, including the most complete Roman arena.  The city is in the middle of rebuilding it's roads into town, as well as turning the entire old town into more pedestrianised areas.  What used to be a parking lot next to the arena is now paved with huge stone blocks.  Most of the parking areas have been moved underground.  When they finally finish, it will be amazing.
Maison Carree is beautiful symetrical, and while a small temple by Roman standards, is quite large.  If you look closely, Bill is standing by the front column.

We started our day in the dark, as Bill wanted to be at the Maison Carree just as the sun came up.  Due to all the construction, bad signage, and a confused BIB, there were a few tense moments, but we made it in time.  The Maison Carre is a small white temple, twice as long as it is wide, beautifully symetrical columns, and set in a square that has been paved again with those huge blocks of stone.  The steps are are quite steep.
The carving on the top of one of the columns.

Walking on through town, we arrive at the Arena.  The French are in the process of looking at each stone to see how they are surviving.  There is concern that several have stress fractures that are new.  Seems to me it's all the cars and people who daily use it.  Maybe even those concerts that have?

The arena is still used for bullfighting.  The statue is one of the famous toreadors who was born in Nimes.

Nimes coat of arms is a crocodile with a rope around it's neck, under a palm tree.  I don't believe he was a native.

While we are standing in the square near the old clock tower, which is full of people enjoying their morning coffee and crossaint, a small boy runs up to Bill.  "Excusez-moi Monsieur, ete-vous Pere Noel?"  His face was full of hope and excitement, could this really be Pere Noel?  Bill looked down at him, smiled and simply answered, "Oui!"  Pure joy!  The smile suddenly brightened to a million watts, he jumped up and down a bit then ran back to his parents shouting, "Oui, Oui, Pere Noel!"  Everyone at the cafes looked in our direction and smiled or laughed.
Pere Noel sighted in Nimes! 

Doune Castle

Doune Castle was rebuilt by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany, a man who was the power behind the throne as Regent for James I of Scotland,...