Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pisa without the Tower

Huge yachts line the quay in Imperia

Eating lunch in the sun was a real treat in late October
Our last morning in France we were all up early as we had to pack up and clean the house before driving to Italy. It was a 6 hour drive down the coast on the Toll Highway. In France the speed limits are consistent and most people obey them (130 kilometers an hour) but once we crossed into Italy they were all over the place and so were the other drivers. It was exhausting. Despite not planning to meet up, our two cars managed to do so every time. Without coordinating for example we both pulled off the highway for lunch at the same spot, in Imperia. We walked down by the port admiring the many yachts on the quay. Scott and I stayed to have a lovely lunch at Matama Braceria by the water.
Our tiny cabin at Camp Darby - this couch was Walt's bed
as well.

Our last dinner out in Terrenia with Brenda and John.
They left the next morning to visit with John's daughter.
Walt is a retired military officer so we were able to rent cabins on bases in Pisa (Sea Pines Recreational Facility, Camp Darby) and Naples (Admiral Robert Carney Park) for a very low rate. The first place was really in Terrenia, between Pisa and Liguria and didn't have a kitchen, but we were able to fix a few things in the evening picnic style as they had a small frig. In the morning we got our cappuchinos out of a vending machine and they weren't bad, before going to the snack bar for breakfast. It was really interesting to live in a military facility - a first for us. Everyone was very nice.

Pisa is a very lovely city. It spreads out along the junction of the Arno and Sercio Rivers and was referred to as an old city by ancient Roman authors. The University has been around since the 12th Century and the town bustles with activity. We found a huge market strung out along the river one day with every thing anyone could want to buy, for sale.
We really enjoyed wandering about the city and marveling at the beautiful architecture. We started out one day to see the Picasso drawings at the Palazzo Blu and got waylaid by the Museo della Grafica (Museum of Graphic Arts). THey had two interesting exhibits - "Drawings and Etchings from Corot to Matisse" and "Southeast Synopsis - photos by Andrea Pistolesi. Both were excellent. These are both "minor" museums in Pisa but really worth visits.
The tower of the Cittadella looming over this
peaceful street

This fun building was in the Piazza dei Cavalieri
We ended up spending two days in Pisa and could have spent more. We kept coming upon another beautiful church or square all over the city and there are lots of pretty cafes with outside seating away from the Piazza Del Duomo with reasonable prices. And sitting in a cafe with a view of the Tower with a cup of cappuchino or a glass of wine is well worth the price. I'll cover that lovely spot in my next entry.
San Paolo a Ripa d"Arno Church

When we came back the second day the whole length
of this river street was filled with stalls 

I have a fascination for doorways and glimpses of
"another world"

These "flying buttresses" are common

This Boulangerie was in a trailer at the market

The fourth scarf I bought on the trip -
everyone wears scarfs in Europe

This gentleman had to be called out of the local bar to
cut our proscuitto and not surprisingly, it was rather
thick and rough

The beautiful small Santa Maria della Spina church
perched on the bank of the River Arno

A back and side view of Santa Maria - a real wedding
cake of a church

Palazzo della Carovana in the Piazza dei Cavalieri

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Gory Details - France

A note from the author. I'm in general getting photos up but not my narrative. It's either non existent at present or rudimentary. That will be coming soon for all my entries in Europe. Check past entries for lots of new information and in some cases new entries appearing chronologically in past months. Sorry for the confusion.

The Breakfast room at the Monte Carlo Hotel in Paris. Even
though it's more expensive to have breakfast in the hotel
we prefer it. We like to have our coffee (and lots of it) first
thing in the morning.
We stayed for 3 nights at the Monte Carlo Hotel at 44 Rue Du Faubourg, Montmartre, Paris 75009. ( A twin bed room with private bath was $187.52 per night. It was 8.5 euros pp for breakfast, which consisted of help yourself croissants/bread/butter/jam/coffee and juice. It was possible to get a petit dejeuner at a Cafe for 6.5 euros but that's just one cup of coffee (I mean of course French versions of this). We like several and right after we get up so we paid the extra price everywhere to eat in our hotels. The hotel was in a lively section of the city and walkable to the Louvre or Sacre Coeur. There were a lot of restaurants near by. Our room was small but attractive and with a good sized bathroom.

Paris hotel rooms are tiny - especially if they're not
expensive, although that's relative
Boulangerie's are a traveler's best friend, but not a diet's
(whose on a diet in Europe?)
The staff spoke English and were very nice and helpful, particularly Thomas who called and made arrangements for us in Toulouse. No air condioning though, only fans.
A good discovery was Le Fourchette ( or in English) a website that allows you to make reservations at restaurants often with big discounts. The earlier you make reservations at hotels or restaurants the better deals you get in Paris.
At the end of the trip we spent one more night in Paris and didn't do anything until a week before. We stayed at Hotel Vielle France near the Gare Nord and it was pretty shabby. And it cost just about the same amount of money. We were stuck as we needed to be near the railway station for our trip to London. We do not recommend it.
As I mentioned in an earlier entry we leased our car from Renault Eurodrive (1-888-532-1221) and we were very happy with them. Our Renault Clio was brand new 90 hp Diesel with GPS. It was easy to pick it up and drop it off. We had it from 9/22 to 11/9 and it cost about $2,000. This was with all inclusive insurance with no deductible. We loved the car and it was fun to drive a manual again.
We had dinner at Le Bouillion Chartier down the street with mixed results. I thought my food was pretty poor but Scott's was better. It was very popular with a line forming early. Diners sit together and there were a lot of English speaking people there.
A small cheese selection! Since we didn't know the name
of most of the cheese, we just pointed.

Fresh fruit is sold everywhere and makes
a great accompaniment to your cheese
and bread

A fantastic recommendation late at night in Toulouse -
La Pergoda, just outside the city

The master griller serves up the steaks at La Pergoda

French fast food - preprepared sandwiches, casseroles,
and salads. They'll heat up things up for you if  you want.

A row of restaurants line the main square in Toulouse, one
of which we had lunch in.

McDonald's, America's fast food, has
invaded France and it seems very
popular. But it serves better food than
in the US and has free WIFI.

Outside the cities the rooms are much bigger and nicer for
the price. This is our lovely place in Prades - Villa du Parc

We had two meals at Villa du Parc's great restaurant

The entrance to the compound. We were in a separate
building with 4 or 5 rooms.

The artisan baker we found in 

We stopped at several "wine tastings". This
was our favorite.

Busy farmer's markets are a huge help to the picnic basket
and many serve lunch as well..

A typical picnic - bread, fruit, cheese, pate, mustard and
wine. We brought two plates, silverware, a sharp knife
 and glasses with us.

The beautifully composed appetizer (entre) at "Augerge
Aux Remp'Arts" in Elne. This was a Catalan specialty with
marinated anchovies

It was worth driving to Spain for the paella in Llanca

Our large bedroom with balcony at Le Grand Bassin in

Of course we had cassoulet in it's birthplace - Castelnaudry

Every morning started with fresh croissants

In the land of gelato - here as in
Italy, it was strange to see Vermont's
Ben and Jerry's! 

The fanciest and most expensive restaurant of our trip -
Chef Jean-Luc Rabanel's "A Cote" in Arles

My dessert - manufique!

Expressions aside, these were good sandwiches. Ethnic
restaurants offer good value (and taste).
We enjoyed talking to several of our neighbors at the table. The next night we got a deal at Raguereau Restaurant, 202 Rue de Honore across from the Louvre - pretty place and good food with the 20% discount. We ate downstairs in the more casual area - upstairs is more formal and we assume, more expensive.
The next day we had lunch at the Ca D'Oro on Rue d'Arbre off Rue de Tripoli, right near the Louvre. It's a small Italian place with a few outside tables and we had a very good meal for a reasonable price (15 euros, 3 courses with a 10 euro half litre of wine). That night we had dinner in our room, feasting on fresh fruit, pate, cheese, bread and wine.
We brought 2 plates, silverware, sharp knife and 2 good plastic glasses with us for these occasions and we used them a lot. We often had one meal at a restaurant and one as a picnic.
In Toulouse we stayed for 2 nights at the Residence Thibaud, 9 Rue Colomies, Toulouse 31100 ( This was an interesting place - located in an industrial park area of the city (you'd need a car) with fifty of so studio apartments of 2 stories around a courtyard. Downstairs bath, kitchenette with table and chairs and upstairs in a loft, a double bed. You need to be agile to get in and out of the bed. It worked well for us and the manager Charlotte was very nice. They serve a good petit dejeuner in the pleasant office with tables and comfortable chairs. The price was right, 49 euros a night and 6 euros for breakfast.
We had dinner our first night at La Pergoda, 262 Ave. De Lardenne 31100 about 20 minutes away - very pretty and good food.
One problem emerged as we left Toulouse, none of the gas stations we tried accepted our credit card. Europeans have a chip in their credit cards and many places won't accept cards without it. We had to go on the toll Motorway and use a gas station on it.
Our next destination was Prades, southeast of Toulouse. We stayed at the Villa du Parc, 49 Route de Ria, 66500. We booked this direct with them on their website ( Our hostess Mineike is German, speaks excellent English and is delightful. This was the nicest place we stayed and for 78 euros per night, a great deal. We ate 2 dinners there and the food and atmosphere was terrific. We would have liked to have at least one dinner out but we were there over a holiday weekend and nothing was open (except thank goodness our hotel.
The third night we were exhausted from a long day sightseeing, hiking and driving and bought some great salads/cheese/meat/bread at a good supermarket in Prades and ate in our room. The breakfast here was worth the price with lots of cheese, meat, many kinds of breads and even soft boiled eggs.
The next 2 nights were at Hotel Auberge du Roua, 46 Chemin du Roua, Argeles-sur-Mer ( 69 euros a night. This was a really elegant small hotel with a very expensive but well reviewed restaurant. We were surprised our room was so cheap - it was small. They had a pretty pool which Scott managed to swim in - it was pretty cold. The breakfast was 11 euros so we walked into town and ate twice in nice cafes near the main square (about 15 min. walk).
Our first night we had a really good dinner at the Auberge Aux Ramp'Arts in Elne. Very nice service and excellent food in this walled medieval looking village. Not much else was going on in the town but we enjoyed our walk around after dinner.
The second night we had a stellar meal and experience at the very friendly "The Flowers" restaurant and we got a 30% discount through The Fork!
During the day we drove down to Spain along the coast enjoying the beautiful small towns and ate some wonderful paella
Our next 2 night were in Castelnaudry at Le Grand Bassin, Quai Edmund Combes, 11400 (booked through website. This is a lovely bed and breakfast with delightful host Giles Avinzac and his wife, located right on the Canal de Midi. We met our friends there and we all had big attractive rooms. The patio outside was a great place to sit and drink/eat. This was 65 euros a night with breakfast - our best deal. Our first night we had pizza downtown at La Gondolier - pretty good and the second night Giles make reservations for us to have cassoulet at a nearby very casual restaurant. It was inexpensive and good.
Our boat trip is covered in other entries. We had a great meal out in Carcassonne but I forgot to note the name. Walking around at night in this ancient city is a very special experience. We cooked almost all our meals on the boat. Shopping for food is so much fun in France and we are all great cooks.
We rented a terrific place for six days in Raphele-les-Arles, only 10 minutes out of Arles, with 3 bedrooms and 1 and 1/2 baths, a large well equipped kitchen, dining room and comfortable living room. It had a large terrace and a small swimming pool in a greenhouse type structure. I need to find the details on this and will post them soon. It was only 500 euros total for 5 nights. We had a very memorable luncheon at Chef Jean-Luc Rabanel's restaurant A Cote, 21 Rue des Carmes (+33490476113) in Arles. We paid $150 for a 6 course (some were small) meal with coffee and a good bottle of wine. (37 euro menu). The wait staff was rushed as is discussed in the reviews but we didn't feel a lack of service and they were friendly. In Avignon we had a picnic in the lovely park on a ancient hill next to the Cathedral and in Aix-en-Provence you can see the photo of Walt and Honoree eating chicken kabob sandwiches at a ?Turkish cafe (good). As usual we all took turns cooking in the house and had wonderful dinners.
After this we were off to Italy and I'll cover the gory details later in another entry.

We didn't often splurge on dessert. But when we did, it was
worth it.  This is a Sainte-Honore cake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Week in Provence - Gordes, Abbaye de Serranque and Fort de Buoux

The Abbaye de Semanque over their lavender fields (not in bloom now unfortunately)

The Alpilles hills going northeast from Arles 

A closer view of the Abbaye

Narrow art gallery filled "streets" in Gordes

Honoree and Walt with their new purchase and the artist

A new look for Walt

Every gateway has a view

The red ivy adds a colorful touch of Autumn

Many of the structures were not vertical

Looking over the valley at the hillside and it's bricked caves

Many flowers added color

Another steep cliffside built up with houses, walls and
under them all, caves

A view of Gordes as we left town

Dramatic entry up to the Fort

That gets even more dramatic!

The caretaker's Fairy tale Cottage and garden welcomes you to the steep path up to the Fort

I wanted to move right in.

Honoree looks into the Fort's entrance

Rock climbers on the steep cliffs opposite

A close up of some of the climbers

Restoration work was ongoing 

The Fort and it's surrounding walled community spread
out on the long ridge.

Looking down at the Secret Staircase

The views over the mountains showed this Fort commanded
the area

We stayed very close to the wall on the trip
down this perilous descent. We can't
imagine how they built this. 

Looking up as Walt and Honoree begin their
trip down