Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in the US…not USSR

I know that I missed our last blog post on Sunday and as penance, Sue is making me write this one. The past week has been pretty quiet. Last Friday morning, we flew from Nice to Paris, and despite our intention of going into the city for the afternoon, we ended up just sitting around the hotel for the day and watching terrible movies (think Frozen 2). We ate both lunch and dinner in the hotel and were just totally lazy.

Saturday, we flew from Paris to Chicago. The flight was easy and while long, it was very non-eventful. I highly recommend upgrading to the seats that fit an actual adult-size human if you can. Plus, free wine. Unfortunately, on the way out of the airport we saw white, flaky stuff falling from the sky. While my first thought was to turn around and get on a plane anywhere south, we persevered. A quick side note – prior to leaving on our wanderings, we sent a box of warm clothes to our host in Chicago. When we sent them in July it was mid 80s Fahrenheit (30ish Celsius) and we both thought we were sending stuff that would be way to warm…HAHAHA… boy were we wrong. Today’s high temperature is expected to be 28° Fahrenheit (2° C).

We spent Saturday evening with friends and got take out from Libanais, our favorite Lebanese restaurant. Since then it has been a whirlwind of visiting with friends and family. We are, of course, working this week and it is somewhat odd having to wake up in the morning in order to have meetings.  😉

Sorry the post is so short, just not much to report. But I thought I would leave you with a video of the Mediterranean from last full day in Nice

Au revoir Nice (pour l’instant)

Today is our last full day in Nice. I know, you’re feeling really sorry for us right now. Your heart will bleed when you realize we are toying with the idea of taking the train into Paris tomorrow once we land at De Gaulle. Our flight arrives at 11:15 a.m. and we don’t fly out until Saturday afternoon, so pourquoi pas? We are staying at an airport hotel and that just doesn’t sound like much fun.

This morning we had petit dejeuner on the beach. The Mediterranean waves were kicking up and it was lovely. I always find it difficult to say goodbye, even if it’s just to a place. Today we will pack up, making sure our suitcases are no more than 23 kilos apiece (thank you Michael for schlepping a bag of stuff home for us).

Yesterday was the day of truth. You probably know (since I have already ranted about it) Covid tests to return to the States. Since we are vaccinated, we could get them up to three days out, and we decided to do it as soon as possible just in case. After a bit of a brain tickle, we both came up negative, so we are travel ready according to United Airlines. Woo hoo! After that, we headed over to the Musée de Photographie. It featured exhibits by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an environmental activist is known for his aerial photos, but who started his career documenting the lives of a family of lions. We loved it. In the gallery next door, we were reminded of how (rightly I believe) the the human rights record of the United States is viewed in other counties, through an exhibit of photos by Florent Meng that depicted the toll on humanity of U.S. border policies. The photos were taken in the desert at and around the border between Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.

In case you were desperate for another Mediterranean Sea pic, here you go. You’re welcome.

After lunch Wednesday, Steven sat down at the computer to work and I went for a wander in the rain. Mostly I was drinking it all in, taking some more photos and enjoying the sound of the sea.

Happy (and lucky)

We also had our final salad, baguette and wine dinner Wednesday night. We will definitely miss the bread, the wine and the sea. We were very comfortable here. It’s familiar enough that we can figure out how to get things done and our pitiful French usually elicited English in return (although sometimes we asked for French for practice). I would say we have acquired enough French to successfully shop and order at a restaurant (mostly).

It’s going to be weird to be in a place where everyone speaks English, we keep saying to each other. Won’t it be nice to ask a question and get an answer we understand at least for a couple of weeks. I am hoping to really get to improve my French in Morocco, where their fourth (!) language is English.

Our last weekend in Nice

Friday was yet another beautiful day on the French Riviera. We took an excursion to another island just off of Cannes. This one is called St.-Honorat and is the home to a monastery and Cistercian monks.  They make (and sell) wine and one a month they offer a tour and wine tasting. To get there, we took the TGV from Nice to Cannes, which was cool even though it didn’t get up to high speeds, then boarded a ferry that took about 15 minutes. Once we were there, we wandered around the island for about an hour before the tour. The tour itself seemed very informative; unfortunately it was in French and we only understood a smattering of it. One person on the tour was using Google translate to get a better understanding, but we looked on this as an opportunity to practice our French and get what we could from the explanation. After the tour and tasting, we wandered around the island, had a picnic lunch and generally enjoyed the peace and quiet.

We caught the ferry back to Cannes and the train back to Nice, and that would normally be the end of the day’s adventures, but Le Flick (the police) had other plans. We had not been asked for our train tickets when we boarded nor on the train. After we exited, Le Flick were checking tickets in a doorway on the way to the exit. Unfortunately, they seemed to be doing it in typical French fashion, meaning no organization at all. Just a couple of guys standing in the doorway with scanners. Imagine a rugby scrum with more people and less order. Anyway, after a minute or two we got to the front and Sue showed our tickets and we were free.

On the walk home, we stopped at the boulangerie for our daily baguette and decided to get an apple tart for dessert. The very nice lady behind the counter let us know that there was a weekend special, which we understood to be buy one get one free, so we added a second apple tart. Well, it was actually buy two get one free. But we had already committed to the weekend special, and that is how we ended up with the lemon tart too. (Steven thinks I didn’t understand that, but I really wanted the extra dessert.) Oh, the trials and tribulations of learning the French language.

Saturday, we decided to go see Èze, a small mountain village just outside of Nice with stunning views of the Mediterranean. It is at about 1,400 feet perched on a sheer cliff. We took the local bus which dropped us off just outside the old portion of the village. We trudged up the last couple of hundred feet, explored the village and visited the exotic gardens. It is a lovely village and Sue took tons of photos, some of which are shown below. 

After a couple of hours of looking around, we had a quick lunch and discussed how to get home. We had two choices: Take the bus back the way we came (cheap, easy, relaxing, and we knew how to do it) or hike a mile and a half down the Nietzsche footpath dropping 1,400 feet to sea level and take the train home (more expensive, no idea how hard the climb down would be, the village is set on a sheer cliff, and there was only a little information about the trail down). Apparently Nietzsche lived in Èze and they have commemorated that by naming the walking path after him. There are a number of signs with his poems along the route – not sure that if I was a resident Nietzsche is who I would want to be known for…but that is their call. Of course, we did the hike – at this point I would like to blame Sue for the decision, but in good conscience I have to let you know that she left it up to me (I wanted to do it, but deferred to Steven’s fear of heights. He turns out to be pretty brave.) and I foolishly thought the hike wouldn’t be too terrible. Actually, it was not terrible at all. It was a fairly steady downhill with only a few very exposed cliff drops (most of which I didn’t realize until I was past them on the lower portion of the switchback). There were, once again, tons of beautiful views and dappling of shade and sun so it wasn’t too hot. It was excellent choice. We arrived down at the station cooled our heels (and the rest of our bodies) for about 40 minutes and the train arrived and took us home. No drama this time at the train station!

At some point in our wanderings of the old town in Nice we found a 24/7 automated pizza machine. Pizza from a vending machine! When we found it, we knew we would have to return and try it out. Saturday night we did just that. It is pretty cool. We used a touch screen to select our pizzas, paid and then Voilà! Trois minutes plus tard the pizza appears. We walked home and sat down to watch a movie, drink wine and eat reasonably good automated pizza. Apologies for the quality of the video and editing.

The Pizza Machine

Wanderings and musings

Oh Covid. Aren’t we all sick (no pun intended) of you!?!?!?! We have been traveling, so we’re clearly not in the overly fearful category of Covid-living, but we’re also vaccinated and respect the wishes of those around us. We wear masks on public transportation and in stores (and I don’t mean chin straps), but we also eat in restaurants.

As we prepare to head back to the States, I am confronted with the irrationality of how we’re all coping with this. Everyone has a reason for behaving the way they do in the face of this illness and everyone else thinks the reasons are, well, a little kooky. You wear a chin strap, but use hand sanitizer 100 times a day? OK for you. You won’t go to a restaurant, but you went to your friend’s party, I get it. You won’t fly, but you take the train? Whatever gets you through.

I’m sure many people would say Steven and I are nuts for traveling(amongst other reasons?). My latest confirmation on wacky thinking is the regulation that we need Covid tests to get back into the States when all the places we’ve been have stricter rules (pass sanitaire or an HES tracking code) and lower or similar Covid rates as the U.S. OK, whatever. Now our biggest fear is a false positive!

Anyway, this week we’ve taken it easy. We took the tram uphill to the end of the line (it was rainy) and walked back down the hill (Steven’s idea). We’ve strolled along the beach and up to the cemetery again (the people there were still dead). Speaking of strolls, we switched phones today as an experiment on the whole step-count debacle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here. So, here are our results:

Notice that we have slightly different step counts, the same stride length and wildly different mileage counts. What’s up with that?

We have been making up for all our walking with … eating! I had socca (a chickpea flour pancake) on the recommendation of my friend (thanks!). Then, we had a delicious Mediterranean (OK, Italian) meal complete with crazy delicious desserts at La Voglia. Steven had a creme caramel that was the size of a bicycle wheel (no he didn’t finish it)(it was about 2cm in diameter) and I had a chocolate, hazelnut, peanut tarte. Yum! Today we had crepes at La Vieille Crepe. We had this bonne idée to have a dessert crepe and then not eat dinner, but we were too full, so we are going to have dessert for dinner instead! Gotta eat like the Nicoise do. I still haven’t had a salad nicoise sandwich, but I am wondering whether I should leave the memory of that perfect meal alone.

I know I have said this before, but everyone has been very accommodating about our very limited French. They will even help us learn new phrases. Today we learned, “Je n’ai pas de place,” or I don’t have room. In other words, non dessert pour moi, merci.

In case you think we’re not gloating enough, here are today’s Mediterranean images. I’ll save the city views for another day. You can thank me later.

If you’re still reading, just a reminder that we will be in Chicago from Nov. 13-20, soooo we’d love to see you if you have some time. Drop us a line. We really do miss our friends and family.

Our penultimate weekend in Nice

Friday was gorgeous, the sun was shining, and the temperature was in the low 20s.  We walked from our apartment to the Musee Matisse, which is nestled an area called Cimiez that is straight north of where we are staying. Like so much of the French Riviera, Nice is surrounded by hills, so once you leave the shoreline you are heading uphill. The walk was only about 3km with a 100 meter incline – easy compared to Istanbul, but still uphill. The museum is in his house and much of the collection was donated by his wife. You enter through a recent addition that is below ground level and work you way up. The lower floors display earlier works and explain Matisse’s education and influences. The top floor holds most of the collection. I was very surprised by the amount of work that he did in sculpture and other media as I think of him only as a painter.

Just outside his house there is a large park that leads to the monastery’s cemetery, where he is buried. Of course, we wandered through the graveyard until we found his tombstone (it was well marked, and we really just had to follow the signs). Dead person bingo part ??? I don’t remember. I have lost count.

We walked home (all downhill!) and then had dinner at a Portuguese restaurant (Le Barbecue) that one of Sue’s friends recommended. After dinner, we wandered through the old town and found nice bar (where the waiter refused to speak French to us and many others around us were speaking English, feh!), sat outside, had a drink and watched the world go by.

Saturday, Abi was flying home from Marseilles. Our plan was to rent a car, drive to Calanques National Park, hike for a while, drop Abi at the airport and then come home. Unfortunately, the weather gods were not cooperative. It rained all day, and we did not bring our wet weather hiking gear, so we had to abandon our hikes. Instead, we decided we would have a late lunch and then take Abi to the airport. For the first time that I can remember we found that Google had incorrect information about restaurant hours. We tried three different places, all of which were listed as open, but none of which were. We finally settled on grocery store take out. Not our most memorable Saturday, but it is always nice to spend time with my daughter. There were a few successes: we managed to drive a couple of miles into the park and find a nice photo spot, we had an interesting tour of Marseilles including a “road” called Impasse du Moroc – which was nearly one car wide, and our rental car was a sweet little Mercedes. (I think maybe Steven has been convinced to buy a Mercedes in Germany, drive it around and ship it home. Win for me!)

We only have one more weekend left before we return to the US for Thanksgiving. We are really looking forward to seeing our friends and family.

A lazy weekend

We settled into the slower and all together more comfortable pace of Nice. The fruit and vegetable market is open almost every day and the Monoprix has wider selection of foods that we recognize. On Friday, we worked in the morning and then decided to go to the Marc Chagall Museum. It was a 20-minute walk that was thankfully mostly flat. The museum was created by M. Chagall so it represents those things that he felt were most important. It was originally envisioned as holding only artwork that was related to the Bible but has since expanded to cover all phases of his work. They have an audio tour that we could access from our cellphones and that made the tour immensely informative. Unfortunately, some of the rooms were closed, but we were able to see quite a bit of his work, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Sue found a day cruise that would take us to Ile Sainte-Marguerite, one of the Lérin islands off Cannes. The prison that held the famed Man in the Iron Mask sits in the middle of a fort on the island. However, that cruise was not running, but we could get to the island from Cannes. So, Saturday morning we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the train. Forty minutes later we were in Cannes, we walked over the quai got our tickets and boarded the ferry. The day was gorgeous, about 22ºC and sunny. We sat outside on the back of the ferry and enjoyed the view of Cannes receding for the 15-minute ride. The island is only 3km by 1km and we decided that we would first walk the perimeter. Once we covered about half the walk, we settled down on some rocks on the shore and had our lunch. After lunch, we completed the walk and then visited the fort that holds the prison. The prison is quite small, it has only about half a dozen cells. The island is gorgeous, with lots of secluded coves and nice walking trails.

Once we had our fill of the island we hopped back on the ferry and headed back to Cannes. We wandered around a little bit, but truthfully, it was just more shopping and restaurants. It was much more crowded and after a day of peace and quiet, it didn’t seem fun, so we hopped back on the train to Nice.

When we arrived back at the Nice train station, we found that we were locked in. There was an anti-Passe Sanitaire protest march outside, and the police had locked the station. We hung around for about 10 minutes and then one of the doors opened. We think someone just opened it, but it is possible that it was opened by security or the police. Either way, we all surged toward the door, and we headed for home. Another beautiful and fun day over.

A quick shout out to my older (much much much older) brother who celebrated his birthday on Saturday. Happy Birthday Phil.

Today (Sunday) we headed east to Monte Carlo. Phil suggested we take a helicopter from Nice, but we rejected that for four reasons. First, helicopters really scare me. Second, helicopters are even worse than a boat for Sue’s motion sickness. Third, it would be really expensive (250€ each way). Fourth, by the time we took the tram to the Nice airport, and then took the helicopter – even if we timed it perfectly – it would take longer than the train. I will admit that the train isn’t half as cool, but it is less than 10% of the cost of the helicopter. So, no helicopter.

Once again, we walked to the train and rode the SCNF. Monte Carlo is interesting. First, it is all hills! Yes, of course we want to walk up and down hills again. Although it was only 35 floors today, down from the 50s in Istanbul. But I get ahead of myself. We took the train after lunch and wandered from the train station down the waterside. As we crossed the main port, there was a carnival. It was exactly like the type of carnival you see in the States in every town during the summer. Same rides, same games, and mostly the same food. (American Skeeball!) It seemed so out of place, yet so familiar. We walked past it and up (many many many steps) to the fort, through the gardens, took in the stunning views of the Mediterranean and admired the statutes. It was beautiful and calming. Next, we headed to the Palais Princier de Monaco square and strolled up and down the alleys. We stumbled on the Cathedral of Monaco and while we were there we found Princess Grace’s tombstone (and Prince Rainier, too). An unexpected famous dead person bonus. Sue took more photos in the palace square and  then we headed back to the train. A quick 30-minute walk (up hill the whole way) to the train station and then a 30-minute train ride and we were home. Another beautiful and enjoyable day.

On the road again

Today, tomorrow and Saturday are all travel days. Today we drove from Clamecy to Valence and tomorrow we drive to Nice. Saturday we are off to Istanbul.

We have spent the month driving our trusty ride, a Dacia Sandero, all over France. For those of you who have never heard of Dacia, it is a Romanian subsidiary of Renault. We got the car through a program called Auto-TT. For reasons that I don’t really understand there is an incentive to car companies to create short-term leases to non-EU citizens. The leases are tax free as long as they are 21 day or more. For us, it was significantly cheaper than a rental car and allowed us both to drive it. Per the terms of the lease, we “own” the car the for the period of the lease and then simply return it to Renault. Renault provided all the insurance.

A quick recap of our travels included this month:

Paris to Clamecy; Clamecy to Chambery (the Alps); Clamecy to Brugge, Brussel & Chimay (Belgium); Clamecy to Dijon (Mustard); Clamecy to Strasborg (the German border); and now Clamecy to Nice (Côte d’Azur). All in, about 5,000 kilometers (about 3,000 miles).

We have noticed a few things about driving here:

  • The majority of the highways are toll roads and they are relatively expensive. The drive to Strasborg cost about €50 ($60) in tolls.
  • Gasoline is very very very expensive compared to the US. The average litre of gas has been about €1.70 ($7.50 per gallon).
  • The country is much hillier that I expected. We are routinely going up or down 7% grades.
  • The roads seem to be either highways (A roads) or two lane “country” roads.
  • There are rotaries (traffic circles? roundabouts? rond points) everywhere. In Paris, the cars entering the rotaries have the right of way over those in the rotary; everywhere I have ever driven, the driver in the rotary has the right of way.
  • When approaching an intersection, the person on the right has the right of way, unless they have yield or stop sign. That means that if you are on a main road and someone on a side street doesn’t have a traffic sign, you have to let them in.
  • I had forgotten how much I enjoyed driving a manual transmission car.
  • With the exception of a faulty front radar sensor, the car performed admirably.

We had one recurring issue when driving – buying gas. For some reason, virtually none of the gas stations would accept our credit cards. I checked with our banks and they both insisted that the gas stations were declining the transactions before it was passed to the bank for approval. We ended up using a debit card, which worked everywhere, but at the supermarket. We had the very odd experience of paying for groceries with a card, then having the same card be declined trying to buy gas outside the store. Very odd. When we used the debit card, they initially put a charge of $345 on the card, but then adjusted it to the actual amount in a couple of days.

Tomorrow we will complete our drive to Nice, and then return the car to Renault.

Saturday morning we hop an Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.

Dijon and Strasbourg and home (oh my)

Steven has taken the past couple of Fridays off for travel. This week, we weren’t leaving town until Saturday so we decided to take a day trip to Dijon, about 2 hours away. We didn’t know anything about Dijon except that we could probably get mustard. It turns out that Dijon is a fairly big city and quite pretty, although it is the only place we have been that does not have a river. We did what we always do and wandered around.

This arch in Dijon reminds me of a low-rent Millennium fountain.

As luck would have it (or our lack of research made it seem like luck), there is a Delerium Cafe (French FB page, English website) in the middle of the city. Steven had wanted to tour their brewery, but they were booked and we didn’t make it to the one in Brussels, so we had a beer and some delicious salads and desserts in Dijon instead.

Every town here has a market and Dijon is no exception. We decided to do our weekly shopping there and ran into some very friendly vendors. Steven, another English-speaker and one of the vendors had a great Franglish conversation about rugby, too (The other English speaker was from New Zealand and there was an upcoming New Zealand (All Blacks) vs South Africa (Springboeks) match). The fruit and veggies were beautiful, as usual. I could get used to shopping for food that way.

Dijon also contained a very minor parking incident. We were proud of ourselves because we capably followed signs to a garage that was big enough to fit the car. We pulled in, grabbed a ticket and drove down an aisle. The next thing we knew, a gate was lifting and we were driving out the exit. Oops. The entrance was down the block and it wasn’t apparent how to get to it, so we followed different parking signs to a different lot and were able to park in a spot about 4 cms wider than the car. Yay!

I think we also found a place to add to our wish list. We bought some souvenirs and a gift to take to Steven’s cousin at a little gift shop whose cashier was from Senegal. He recommends it highly. We are seriously considering it. As a Clamecy transplant said when I asked “pourqua ici?” (Why here?) he moved there, “Pourqua pas?”

Our sense of French geography may leave a little to be desired when it comes to our gas budget.

IF we had thought about it, we might have spent the night in Dijon, since we almost drove right back through it on our way to Strasbourg. Ah well, what’s a few extra hours of driving? (OK, so the map is a bit confusing. The total time from Clamecy to Dijon was 2 hours each way; the total time from Clamecy to Strasbourg was about 5 hours each way).

We actually had a reason for going to Strasbourg (yes, I know we are not known for reasoning or at least reasoning anyone else understands), but Steven has cousins who are on sabbatical there, so off we went. Granted, when we all lived in the same state, I never met them, but when you’re in France and you magically know people, you visit. Strasbourg is another pretty city and it has A LOT of water. It’s more international (the European Parliament meets there) and very close to Germany, so everything was in two languages we don’t really speak.

Steven’s cousin Jessica and her husband, Mark, were great hosts and lovely people in general. They have a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old, so more power to them for going on a grand adventure with those two great kids in tow. Jessica’s parents just happened to be visiting as well, so I got to hear some good family stories and learn more about how Steven got to be who he is. I’m not putting any adjectives in here just in case the family reads this. Really, you’re all fabulous!

The old town of Strasbourg is an island in the midst of the River Ill. It is a major port on the Rhine and the capital of Alsace.

We stayed at a sort of cross between rooming house and hotel. There were maybe 8 rooms (I am guessing) and they had tiny kitchenettes complete with two-burner stoves. It was clean, comfortable and within walking distance of Jessica. Plus, there was ample, free street parking and it was across the road from the Parc de l’Orangerie (hence the name: Le Relais de l’Orangerie). It definitely suited our purposes, but we also left finding a place until close to the last minute, so maybe it wouldn’t have been our first choice.

L’Orangerie itself was beautiful, even in the drizzle we encountered on Sunday morning. A lake with swans, a restaurant, plenty of cute bridges and trails, plus storks and their nests, a zoo, farm and statues. Lovely.

Now for a bit of a downer (but nothing too terrible)

We had the brilliant plan of stopping in Beaune (mentioned in this entry) again, but this time to get an early dinner since we had noticed the last time we went through that restaurants were serving on Sunday. Well, they are, but not early. We settled in to an outdoor brasserie to sip our wine slowly and wait for the kitchen to open. We did what we normally do when we’re planning more travel and began looking up important information (how far is it from Casablanca to Tunis? for instance) on our phones. Unfortunately, one of the local thieves noticed this. He watched us for a bit and then came over, sat next to us and started sputtering some nonsense. The distraction worked, because he had set a map on top of Steven’s phone and when he left, the phone had magically disappeared. What a drag!

The owner of the place called the police (le flic!), brought over a guy he suspected was the thief (he wasn’t) and said his wife would take us to the police station. We declined. What were they going to do.? The phone was long gone. Lesson learned. As Steven said, “Sometimes we do dumb things and we know we’re doing something dumb. Other times we do dumb things without knowing.” This was the latter. We just use our phones so constantly that we don’t think of hiding them or putting them away. Steven rolled with it, we got him a new phone today. (The joy of living in the country? The nearest phone store is an hour away and the nearest Apple store is 2 hours away – in Dijon!) and we’re out the money and feeling a little stupid. It could have been worse. But, people, watch your phones! And maybe sit in the middle of the crowd instead of on the edge.

Once again, props to my husband for keeping life in perspective. We are on a grand adventure and it is still might grand!

Forgive the reflective digression

On this erev Yom Kippur (for those who do not know, it is the Jewish Day of Atonement), I want to take a moment out of reveling in our travels to remind myself how lucky I am. Has the road always been easy? Of course not. Am I all the things I imagined I’d become. Again, no. But I also wouldn’t have dared believe I would be in a position to be sitting in an AirB&B in the middle of nowhere France visiting with my best high school friend. And having a husband who wanted to be along for the ride. To travel. To explore. To (try to) learn a new language. To have great family and friends I know will always be there for me. And to have found a wonderful man to share it all with (I am assuming she is talking about me…Dear readers please feel free to send in your opinions).

Below are a couple of photos from our morning walk. Life is tough.

Is life perfect? No. Are there dreams I haven’t fulfilled? Yes. Do I miss the people who are gone? Absolutely. They have all left me with something and I aspire to live my best life in their honor. I don’t always succeed, but these days I find myself marveling at the wonder of all that is around me. Yes, I worked to get here, no doubt. As I write this (Sept. 14), my son is celebrating his birthday seven time zones away. Do I have a twang of sadness about that? Of course. But as it should be, I am much more melancholy about it than he is. Did I spend my 26th birthday with my mother? I am sure I did not.

So, I will reflect. I will try to be the best I can be and I won’t succeed, but I will keep trying. I will look out the window and understand that not everyone gets to see a medieval church whose magnificent domed ceiling makes one feel small and that getting in the car and taking a weekend trip to Belgium just to say “fuckin’ Bruges” because you thought the movie was funny, is an extraordinary way to live for a blue-collar woman from Queens.

I will reach, fall short, waste time playing on my phone and beat myself up about it. I will fall short in so many ways (at least in my eyes), but I will remember what a new friend said to me recently and I will try to radiate positive energy and be a magnet for attracting good people into my life.

I’m old enough to have sloughed off a lot of the anger and learned to appreciate what’s in front of me. My motto these days is: Experience over objects, not that I was ever the most materialistic person in the world, but I was in Paris for a month and all I bought besides food (and wine!) were two fridge magnets.

Enough of the sanctimonious navel-gazing (although I do mean it all).

Here’s a reality check:

It’s tough when:

  • you’re living and working remotely in a one-bedroom apartment with crappy WiFi,
  • something goes wrong and you don’t speak the language well enough to get help
  • nothing is open on Sunday or Monday or between noon and 2 pm
  • (your wife seems to think a 15,000 mile hike up and down the side of a HUGE mountain is fun)

But every time we start whining about one of these things, one of us looks at the other and says, “We’re in France and then we’re going to Istanbul and Nice and Barcelona and Fes!” and the whining stops.

Here’s hoping for continued growth, learning and self-awareness in the coming year.

Into the Alps

We headed out Friday morning for a town called Chambéry. It is about 4 hours southeast of us and in the heart of the French Alps. For those of you who are fans of the Olympics, it is an hour north of Grenoble (1968) and an hour and a half west of Albertville (1992). Once we arrived, we did as we always do and wandered the town. For some reason there is a giant fountain of elephants in the main square. I will leave it to you to investigate why.

On Saturday morning, we went for a stroll in the market and then headed out for our day’s main activity, a “leisurely” 11.5km (7.2 mile) hike that we found on AllTrails called Circuit of the Bridges. It was in a small village called Saint-Jean-d’Arvey about 10km away. I neglected to notice that it was also 335m (1,000ft) higher than Chambéry.  For those of you who do not know me, I am very skittish when it comes to heights. Driving up and down mountain roads is at best difficult and at worst has me wanting to curl up in the back seat and whimper – even when driving. So the ride up to the trailhead was a little unnerving, but we made it.

The trail started at 600m (2,000ft) and was easy to find, but AllTrails states that the elevation gain is 450m (1,500 feet) which is well within our limits; afterall, we climbed Toubkal in Morocco, which was 16km and 2,500m (8,000ft) in elevation gain – just to the base camp. However, that was 4 years ago, and we had not been sedentary for 18 months due to the pandemic. I found the hike quite difficult. It started by dropping 250m to a single span wooden bridge over a deep ravine. (Oh yeah! Walking across a wooden bridge with a terrible fear of heights! ) I took a deep breath and pressed on. (He’s very brave.) I even stopped for Sue (who has no fear of anything and is a hiking machine) to take a photo of me – I am attempting to smile.

From that point it was an all-uphill hike to about 700 meters (2,300 ft). We had a picnic lunch along the trail and then climbed up and down the ravines.  We made a detour of about 1.5km when we followed an incorrect sign on the path. (Oops! It said Thoiry, but we didn’t notice it also said “the long way.”) The village of Thoiry is about halfway through the hike. We had hiked almost 8km (5 miles) and I was done. Sue graciously agreed to cut short the hike and we took a couple of short cuts and ended back at our car in Saint-Jean-d’Arvey after about 12km (7.5 miles), a bit longer than the original hike length. I still don’t understand how we cut the hike in half and took a shortcut, but still hiked longer than the original long route. Faulty GPS, faulty AllTrails, faulty us? Over the entire walk we saw perhaps 10 people, so it was just us, our cameras and our thoughts. Enough words…Here are photos

Sunday we decided to go to Grenoble to look around. We started by visiting the Resistance Museum. It was very well done (and free, but they did not have a “Viva la Resistance t-shirt — disappointing) and we spent about an hour in it. Afterwards we wandered into the old part of town and were terribly disappointed. Nothing was open (ach, dimanche!) and we just didn’t see anything of any interest. We walked back to the car and headed home.

Google says it is a 4-hour drive on the highway; we drove to Lyon on the highway, stopped for some lunch on the highway and made the grand decision that we were in no hurry to get home. Steven neglects to mention that we took the highway hoping that the rest stops were open since there was no other way to get food on Sunday. We told Google to find us a way home without the highways and off we went on a scenic tour of France. Boy do the French love roundabouts (des rond points). We hit one every kilometer or so. After a few hours we decided to head to a medieval city called Beaune that one of our friends said was pretty (also it is the wine capital of Burgundy). By the time we got there, it was about 7pm and we once again had a wander. (Restaurants were open. Viva la tourisme!) The place was packed with tourists and after about 45 minutes we had enough.

Once back in the car, we decided to go back on the highway and covered the last 130km in about 90 minutes. It was nearly 9pm by the time we got home. A long but very fun day.