Carolyn's & Tom's Excellent European Adventures

Carolyn's and Tom's Trips to France: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why we love Paris markets



Our final days in France were spent in Paris, where the weather was spectacular.  We discovered a new Paris market --  the Marche President Wilson, not far from the Arc de Triomphe on the Right Bank.  It runs for 6 or 8 city blocks and has *everything!*  Click here to see a slide show of its many wonders!



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Finally, sunshine




Here's the view from our apartment this morning. We've had rain every day but 2 since we arrived. January was the wettest January since they started records in Nice and so far february is starting out as wet or worse. Huge storms on the Atlantic coast of France. But a one-day break today -- sunshine and warm temps.



School is fine. Carolyn doing well with her tutor. And I'm in the most advanced class at the Institut, for some reason.
It's supposed to be beautiful on Sunday (before a huge storm on Monday). We're planning a hike to a hilltop restaurant. More later.


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Location:Quai de l'Amiral Ponchardier,Nice,France

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Saturday morning market in Nice


Saturday morning. Not great weather, but at least it wasn't raining (much). So we took the bus into Nice, stopped at a wonderful patisserie/salon de thé for le petit dejeuner (Carolyn had a hankering for a cafe au lait and an almond croissant -- a pastry extravaganza with so much butter and almond paste that we were full until well into the afternoon). After breakfast we strolled down into the old city -- stopping at our favorite pasta shop to buy ravioli for the party we're having on Sunday for a bunch of friends returning to "L'Institut", as well as a great wine shop, a boulangerie (to get bread for lunch -- see below) and then to the famous outdoor market at Cours Salaya.  Then to a legendary confiserie -- a fancy candy shop -- called Auer.  Right out of the 19th century, they specialize in candied fruit, and amazing candy.  We forced ourselves to get some goodies and then went on home to enjoy the fruits of our labors for lunch.  Pics below.

First berries of the season -- from Spain

Candied fruits are a specialty in southern France

Sundried tomatoes, etc.

The flower market

Confiserie Auer

Remember the dream about getting locked in a candy store?

Dejeuner back at home


Thursday, January 30, 2014

France again, 2014




So here we are again in France, our third year in Villefranche.  We arrived last Sunday and had three days of sunshine and pleasant weather.  We really hit the jackpot in terms of our apartment.  It's a lovely one-bedroom apartment in an old building in the "Vieux ville" -- the historical section of Villefranche. It's called "Le beau balcon," a reference to the little balcony off the living room that sits over an ancient cobblestone street/alley/staircase.  There's even a pleasant view out over the harbor and Cap Feret in the distance. Beautifully furnished, good heat (important this time of year), even a dishwasher and clothes washer.  We're delighted.  The pictures above are the view from our balcony and Carolyn enjoying breakfast a la francais -- the boulangerie is just around the corner and the bread, croissants, etc., are -- of course -- excellent.
      After a recovery day of moving in, getting over jet-lag, etc., we took off for a hiking adventure, which turned out to be more of an adventure than we counted on.  We took a couple of busses to a little "village perché" (a village perched on a cliff overlooking the sea) called La Turbie. This village was lovely, and had the most amazing cheese shop ever! We bought four or five varieties -- we couldn't resist! -- including a gouda sprinkled with truffles and an extraordinary Gorgonzola, the likes of which we'd never tasted.
      One of our books described a hike from La Turbie to another mountain-top village, Eze. Both are beautiful and evocative of the middle ages.  The hike, however, was something else again, as the directions and signposts weren't very good (we took wrong turns on several occasions and probably walked a mile or two out of our way). The view from the "Col de Eze," the pass separating the two villages, was spectacular. (Here we had our lunch of some of that cheese and bread, half-way through the hike.) The picture below shows the view looking out at the Mediterranean: the peninsula in the distance is Cap Ferrat, a beautiful (and unbelievably wealthy) piece of real estate.

 However, the "walk" down was pretty hard on the knees and toes -- relentlessly and very steeply downhill over rocks, through streambeds, etc.  You can get a sense of the elevation loss from the photos. But now that our feet and knees have recovered, we can say it was a good experience, though not one we want to repeat anytime soon.
 


  It's rained every day since our hike, but supposed to stop in the next day or two. We have invited a bunch of our friends from previous years to a "soiree" on Sunday night.  We're serving a "daube" -- southern France's answer to beef burgundy.  Then Tom starts school at the Institut de Francais on Monday, and Carolyn begins her series of daily tutorials. More later.




Monday, March 18, 2013

"Woofing" During the Mistral in Provence



IMG_0258
The field from which we removed a truckload of young grape vines, to make room for a new field of asparagus. The tractor is digging up the rows so we can pull out the vines. This was not a small field!
After spending two months, over two years, working on our French in classes near Nice, we wanted to put it to use and see how we could do in the real world. So we signed up to be "Woofers," [World-side Opportunities in Organic Farming] on a farm in Provence. We lived for 4 days with a family whose son, Mario, was intent on becoming a self-sustaining organic farmer. We traded our work for a place to stay, all our meals, and a chance to get to know the family, their way of life, and to  practice our French (no one in the family spoke English). We emailed back a forth a bit before we left for France, but really had little idea what we were getting into. It turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.
In addition to farming, Mario and his family ran a bed & breakfast (a "chambre d'hote" in France) so we thought we'd fit right in -- help cook breakfast, clean rooms, work in the garden a bit. Except that he had no guests in March, and a great need for help in his fields. So we spent four amazing days working as farm hands, living with his family, and speaking French. The only bad part was that we arrived at the same time as a major windstorm -- a Mistral. This legendary wind blows straight from the Artic; it is fierce and very cold. For the first three days, the wind blew constantly at 40 - 50 miles per hour, with gusts well over 60!  And the temperature was in the 30's and low 40's. The only saving grace was the brilliant sunshine.
You might think that with these climactic conditions, no one would work outside. Not so! We spent 3 1/2 frigid days pulling out grape vines, planting some of the vines in another vineyard, weeding a newly planted vegetable garden, pruning back a sizable vineyard that had gone without care or pruning for several years, and trying to stay warm. Fortunately, the wind stopped for our last day of work so we got a sense of what the Provencal weather is usually like this time of year. But the four days we spent ":woofing" were unforgettable -- we laughed a lot, drank a lot of wine, ate very well, took a lot of Motrin, found out that we could understand and make ourselves understood pretty well in French, and got acquainted with a truly delightful family which we will probably visit again. Here are some pictures of our adventure. They include trying to light a fire to make coffee in 60 mph winds, the load of vines we removed, Tom weeding, Carolyn trying to stay warm, a work break from pruning during our one warmish day, the vineyard we pruned (note its size, and the difference between the pruned and unpruned rows), the B&B, and Carolyn with Mario's wonderful family.









Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cathar Castles


A side trip from Carcassonne took us to a beautiful region in the foothills of the Pyrenees where there are several incredible cliff-top fortresses built by the Cathars in the 14th century. It looks totally inaccessible, but a hair-raising drive followed by a 20 minute hike/climb takes you to the top.  The castle in the picture above is Peyrepertuse. Some pics:




A neighboring castle, Queribus, looks from a distance like a cathedral built on top of a cliff.  We didn't have time to climb up, but it presents an amazing prospect:


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Carcassonne







So, after four lovely days in Rome, we flew back to Nice, picked up our rental car and left luggage at the airport, and drove 4 hours around to Carcassonne -- an amazing medieval walled city in the Southwest of France, not far from the Spanish border. During the summer, the town is mobbed with tourists, but in late winter/early spring, it was just pleasantly busy. We stayed in an apartment in the "new" (i.e. 15th century) town outside the city walls. The old city dates back to the 10th century (and before: it was originally a Roman fort), and was a stronghold of the Cathairs, a Christian sect that was wiped out by the Pope, in league with the French king, in the 15th century. Several thousand people still inhabit the old city, within the walls, but most of the population is now in the lower town. A beautiful spot.   Some pics of the walls and one of the interior:







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