Field Trip to Tonalá

Announcement: yes we have power! It was on when we returned from our “vacation from our vacation,” as our Tequila tour guide put it. OK, now onto our regularly scheduled program.

The best days at school are the days you don’t go to class! Every Wednesday is field trip day at IMAC (my Spanish school). Today we took the bus (which costs about 50 cents) to Tonalá, a city just on the outskirts of Guadalajara and just east of Tlaquepaque, where were were last weekend. We joined up with Mexican students who are learning English and toured the city. Tonalá is famous for its ceramics, so we visited two different ceramics manufacturers where our guide, Jorge, explained the process (todo en español).

At the first stop, the factory produced all different types of pottery animals, urns, birds, you name it. See below.

The second, Najaco, specialized in making ceramic Lupita dolls (they were $15 in Tonalá). The dolls are shipped all over the world. For some reason, Jorge, really wanted us to know that this included Russia. I think that is the farthest place they go. It’s a bit of a miracle considering they pack the dolls in shredded newspaper.

The ceramic process itself was interesting, and we did learn more about the food and culture of the city,but what I was really wondering is how the painters keep their hands so steady all day long. Some of them are painting tiny flowers and other adornments on the dolls.

Then, we walked down Avenida Tonaltecas, the main road which also houses a huge crafts market twice a week, where we got a history lesson via the many statutes that line the broad median. Tonalá was founded by Zapotec Indians who intermarried with other tribes, and the different cultural influences are apparent in the art. I think I understood most of what Jorge was saying, but who knows?

Perhaps the best part of being in a language immersion program is that most of the other students are also adventurers. I met a principal from England who quit her job and is traveling Mexico with her Mexican girlfriend; a Japanese engineer who is here for 5 years with his wife and small children; a fellow New Yorker who teaches online and is hanging out for now; and a woman who is searching for her dream retirement location in the sun. Fun!

I am starting to venture out into the world with more confidence in Spanish these days. I even understand some of what people are saying and can respond, albeit slowly and with limited vocabulary. I am enjoying trying to get my point across with my kindergarten-level lexicon and only 2.5 verb tenses.

If you happen to want to watch Spanish TV and Peppa Pig is not for you, try out Los Vecinos on Netflix. It’s a totally stupid and funny superhero sendoff set in Mexico City.

And, last, but certainly not least, we wandered the city with Kenta and Doug on Sunday as they showed us some of their favorite spots. We ate at Casa Trapiche, which is on Instagram if you’re planning to head over there. It’s worth it if you’re in the barrio. 🙂 I had a salad with beans, corn, chayote and quinoa with a lemon-based dressing and a taco dorado de papa, which is a potato taco with shrimp and a cucumber and onion dressing. Yum. Steven had a dogo del huerto which is not a hot dog, but meat stuffed into a hot dog shaped bun. He enjoyed it. I’ll take his word for it (It was very good, and more importantly they had a really good beer from a brewery called Colimita).

Tequila Tour

Friday started out like a normal workday. Sue went to school and I sat down to work. Everything was fine until our cleaner noticed that the lights had gone out. I did not have the lights on and was working with my laptop, so I didn’t notice that the power was out. We tried various lights (and I checked the internet); all were off. The cleaner offered to check with the building security guards to see if there was a problem. To keep a long story short, the electricity bill for the apartment was not paid, so they shut off the lights. The cleaner (who works for the AirBnB host) said she would take care of it. She said she had to go pay the bill and then the power would be back in an hour or two. (Steven neglects to mention that he speaks no Spanish and the cleaner speaks no English.) In the meantime, Sue returned and attempted to contact the host, but got no reply. Sue then contacted AirBnB who tried to contact the host, and received a reply that there was something wrong with the electricity. When the cleaner returned, she said that the bill had been paid, the electricity should be back soon and then she left. It was now about 3 p.m., so we decided to head out for some Lebanese food at a restaurant that we passed a few days ago. We hoped that the lights would be back before we returned.

The restaurant is called Sulemaya on Calle Marsella and is tiny (maybe five tables). We sat down and the server came by and gave us menus. As we were fumbling in Spanish he offered to speak English. We (really Sue) explained that we were trying to learn Spanish and bear with us. He said no problem and through the course of the conversation we found that he was fluent in four languages; Spanish, French, English and Arabic. We felt so inferior. Sue had a vegetarian platter while I had kibbeh and a kefta wrap. The food was delicious and we finished up with Lebanese coffee which is similar to Turkish coffee, but contains some cardamon. At about 4:30 we returned to the AirBnb, to find that we still did not have lights.

Weird bathroom

Sue contacted AirBnb and the host asking whether it was possible that the lights would be turned back on after 5 p.m. or over the weekend. We sat for a little while and then decided that since we were not receiving responses, we would check into a hotel and deal with it from there. There is a very nice Hilton in the mall where we go grocery shopping, and I booked us a room for two nights. We packed some stuff feeling kind of irritated and called an Uber. The hotel check in was easy and the room was nice. (The bathroom setup was a little weird. I’m not complaining, it was just odd. There was a front room with a sink and then two compartments with glass doors, one with a toilet and one with the shower. See pic.) We calmed down and remembered that this is an adventure and things do go wrong. No one was hurt, nothing was broken so we had to just shut up and get over it. The key to having adventures is being flexible and if the worst thing that happens here is that we have to stay in a hotel for a few day, oh boy we have no right to complain.

Monse (photographer) and our tour group

We had booked a tour of a couple of local tequila distilleries and of the the town of tequila for Saturday through TripAdvisor with a company called Agave Experience Tequila Tour. It was a small (no more than 6 people) group tour that stopped at two small Mexican owned distilleries, provided breakfast and dinner (11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and dropped us in the town of Tequila for about an hour. At 10:30 a.m. our driver, Monse, picked us up and we found ourselves traveling with four young ladies, two who knew each other and two who did not.  The two who knew each other were fresh off a long night out and did not talk much in the beginning due to their hangovers. (Oh to be young and stupid again!) The third, Emma, is from Toronto and is avoiding the cold by working remotely from Mexico (with her cat) for four or five months. Samantha, the fourth, is from Napa and works in the wine industry. She and her husband have their own vineyard Tectonic Wines, which I am shamelessly plugging here. Go buy some of their wines. Samantha is here learning Spanish for a month. Monse’s English is great and she managed to keep the conversation going by asking lots of questions and sharing her knowledge of the area. She had many suggestions for places to eat, drink and things we should do.

The different types of Tequila (round bottles l to r: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, Extra Añejo, and Cristalino

A small diversion here to talk a little about tequila, tequila manufacturing and regulation. Tequila can only be made in five states in Mexico, must be made only from blue agave and each distiller is given a license number call a NOM (which stands for Norma Oficial Mexicana, but in translation means name, which is pretty funny because it is a number). Every bottle of tequila has a NOM. There are something like 180 distilleries, that produce 1,800 different brands. If the bottle does not say 100% agave, the distillers are adding sugar cane before the distillation process, which is allowed. Tequila only has to be 51% agave to be called tequila. There are five different types of tequilas that have to do with how long they have been aged in barrels (only oak barrels allowed):

  1. Blanco: aged less than two months
  2. Reposado: aged two months to one year
  3. Añejo: aged one to three years
  4. Extra Añejo: aged three years or more
  5. Cristalino: Añejo that has been charcoal filtered to remove some of the sweetness and the color.   

We headed for an agave field that is owned by the first distillery – Casa Marengo (NOM 1560). Monse explained how the agave was harvested (the leaves are cut off using a tool that looks somewhat like a flattened and sharpened spade), that the harvesters are called jimadors, and that the plant needs to be about seven years old before it is ready to be harvested. The jimadors need to harvest 5 tons of agave a day each and work from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.  

Once we finished wandering in the agave field we headed back to the distillery to taste. We tried some of each type of tequila from one of their brands. Sue and I preferred the older (no jokes please) types as we found them sweeter and smoother. During the tasting, Monse provided little bottles that contained extracts of flavors we might find in the tequila. We smelled the bottles and tried to guess the scent. We tried six scents and I was 1 for 6. I found it difficult name the scent even if I could identify that I knew the smell. It was fun and interesting. Once we were done tasting and looking around the distillery, we exited through the gift shop (I bought a bottle of their Amor Lindo extra añejo for about $50) and headed to the second distillery.

That one is called Cava de Oro (NOM 1477). Once again we toured the distillery and tasted all five types of tequila from one of their brands. We also tried a mezcal and another añejo that had been aged in red wine barrels.  This time as part of the tasting, Monse gave us fruit and sweets that were paired with each of the tequilas (and the mezcal) in order to bring out the flavors. It was very interesting, We preferred the first distillery to this one, that not meant to be a criticism, simply a matter of taste.

We headed from Cava de Oro to a restaurant called Ruinas El Chimulco. It is a pueblito called Amatitan and it perfectly encapsulates what we have found in Mexico. We parked at the top of the hill when we entered the village. There were a bunch of nondescript houses on the main street. We suddenly stopped and entered through a doorway and we were in a beautiful, park-like courtyard. It was gorgeous. I ordered a shared meat platter and a chicken mole with the two ladies from San Diego. Everyone else ordered some for themselves and some for the table. We had a huge amount of delicious food, most of which we finished.

We piled back into the car and we drove to the town of Tequila. Monse dropped us in the center of town and we spent about 30 minutes wandering around. The town has a large square (with a church in the center of course).

Around the corner of the church there was another square with a small tourist market and the obligatory Tequila Instagram sign. There were lots of people selling cantaritos (a local tequila drink) on the street in ceramic mugs. We passed by the Jose Cuervo and the Sauza distilleries in our wanderings, but did not stop for their tours. We headed back to the square, found Monse and headed home.

We got home at about 9:30 and promptly decided to head out to a nightclub…Only kidding, we collapsed into bed and watched the football game and some tennis.

….and that was just Saturday.

A relaxing weekend

Our drinks at De La O

We started our weekend on Friday night by walking over to a bar called De La O Cantina. It is a pretty hip place with interesting drinks and tacos. One of the challenges we have found is that many of the places that we are planning visit do not have websites and/or have a Facebook page that doesn’t have a menu. De La O falls into the latter category. What is up with the Facebook pages? They are less than useful. This is a bit of a challenge for us as the food here is very meat focused (Good for me! Bad for Sue). Luckily De La O had vegetarian options and so it worked out. In addition to having interesting tequila drinks (the one at the right has fermented pineapple in it), they brought around a small batch agave drink that we think was called Mezcalito for us to taste. It was very good and when we go to Tequila next week, we will see if we can find it.

Saturday, we took an Uber to a little pueblito (small town) called Tlaquepaque that is on the outskirts of Guadalajara. It has a couple of very small ceramics museums, many street statues, pretty architecture, lots of places selling tourist stuff and, of course, the required Instagram sign. Every cute little tourist town is outwardly similar, but they all reflect the diverse culture of their areas.

We wandered around for a couple of hours just soaking up the sunshine and the vibe. Later in the afternoon, we headed for dinner at Restaurant Casa Luna (once again, just a Facebook page). They had their menu outside so we were sure we could find things we both like. The restaurant is housed in a courtyard with beautiful chandeliers and lots of hanging lanterns. The food was delicious and there was a band playing Mariachi music which made dinner incredibly pleasant.

During the week we signed up for the local bike share system called MiBici. Residents sign up and then use a credit card to unlock the bikes. For foreigners, the system allows you to buy the yearly subscription ($20) using an American credit card, however, it will not recognize the credit card to unlock the bike. The work around it is to get a metro card and link the metro card to the MiBici account. (We learned how to do it through this vlog. Thanks Kenta and Kenta’s friends.) It was actually pretty easy once we knew what to do and we got our cards on Thursday. Every Sunday, Guadalajara closes a fairly large number of streets to cars from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The lunch place in the market

We took advantage of the both the bike subscription and the closed streets to go for a ride. We headed straight north to a street market about a mile away. We wandered around the market, which to be honest was similar to every other street market in every other city we have visited: clothes, electronics, shoes and general kitchen crap was all on sale. We didn’t buy anything, but we do enjoy wandering through them. We decided to grab an early lunch at one of the market food stands. We quickly figured out that one had vegetarian options and we settled on a couple of stools and fumbled through our orders. We ordered something called huaraches. They are fried masa dough with ingredients piled on the top (Sue had mushrooms, I had beef). On the table were chopped onions, cucumbers and carrots, sprigs of parsley and basil and salsa. Once the food was delivered, you put whatever you want on top. It was good fun and cost just about $8. We do like street food.

After lunch we grabbed more bikes headed to the supermarket, shopped for the week and then ubered home.

Our First Weekend

I didn’t realize that it has been nearly a month since I wrote a post. Many thanks to Sue for keeping everyone posted on our plans and travels. This is our first weekend in Guadalajara so we figured we should pack it full.

Friday night we decided to go out to eat, and quickly settled on sitting on the balcony of Casa Dolores, which is just across the street from our AirBnB. Sue picked out a sipping Tequila called Ollitas. It was sold in 60ml, 250ml and full bottle. We decided to share the 250ml bottle, which we figured was about 2 or so drinks each. It was very smooth and I would highly recommend it. (Please be aware that we will be taking a tequila tour in the next few weeks, so we may learn that we currently drinking the tequila equivalent of lighter fluid – so perhaps take this suggestion with a grain of salt). Sue had a fish dish that arrived on fire (literally in the literal sense of the word), while I had a very nice steak. I also ordered a dish called potatas arriero, which translates to potatoes muleteer. I had no idea what a muleteer was, but figured I couldn’t go too wrong. Turns out that they were fingerling potatoes is a spicy tomato sauce. It was a very enjoyable meal and we lingered well into the evening.

A section of the Mercado

 On Saturday morning we started by walking to Sue’s school (she will be taking an intensive Spanish course starting a week from Monday — because that way I can not really speak two different romance languages, capice?) which is in downtown Guadalajara, about 3km away. The mornings here are cool, maybe 15° C (60ish F), and we set off around 10am. We wandered in and out of the neighborhoods, taking note of places we wanted to eat, including the wonderfully named El Terrible Juan Cafe. We passed the Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento, unfortunately, we could not go inside as they were saying Mass. 

Watch out, dad joke ahead: Thought I would saddle you with this picture.

We continued to wander through the downtown and finally found our way to the Mercado Libertad – San Juan de Dios. It is a huge (40,000 m2) indoor marketplace. There is everything from kitchen utensils to electronics to clothes, fruit, vegetables, leather goods (including saddles!) and food. We either bravely or foolishly decided to eat at one of the food stalls. Sue ordered chilliquiles (Mom – click on the link to see what they are) and I ordered chicken enchiladas. We were both quite hungry, the food was good and as an extra bonus did not upset our stomachs.

After lunch started walking home and the temperature had reached into the mid-20’s, on the way, found a panaderia called El Abuelo. After a few minutes of confusion we figured out that we were supposed to grab a tray, pick out what we wanted and then take it to a counter. The nice young lady at the counter put them into bags and gave us a receipt. We took the receipt and paid a man who was in booth (about 2 steps away), who then signaled to the young lady that we had paid and gave us the bags. We bought to large rolls and three cookies. Total price was 43 pesos (by the way the symbol for peso is $ – very confusing!) or about 2 US dollars. The cookies were yummy!

On Sunday, Sue’s friend Kenta and his husband Doug invited us over for brunch. They live about 40 minutes walk north of us. It was the first time Sue had met Doug and the first time I had met either of them. We had a really great brunch with wonderful conversation. A special thank you to Doug for cooking. Delicious! After brunch we walked over the supermarket near them called Fresko that they recommended. It is much more like an American grocery store than we have found here (but according to Sue – it ain’t no Monoprix) so we loaded up on lots of stuff that we needed. We grabbed an Uber home and called it a day.

All in, we are happily getting settled in yet another new city.

Always Remember to Stay Flexible

Me, thinking about our plans for the next few months.

I would like to report that we are spending our time in Florida visiting all the cultural and historic sites, but well, it is Florida, so not so much. Instead, we are working, visiting with my mother and obsessing over our next move.

Today we made quite a bit of progress. We abandoned our goal of spending a few months in Fez.  The Moroccan government has closed the country’s borders until the new year, and we decided that it was not worth waiting and hoping that they would re-open. Instead, we have decided to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, from Jan 3rd through February 25th.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a cathedral in Guadalajara.

Why Guadalajara? Excellent question. First, it is warm and that is a pretty big draw for me. Second, it is a city and so we will be able to explore the culture and history of Mexico. We considered Mexico City, but decided that Guadalajara is a bit more manageable. Third, it seems like there are lots of things nearby for us to see and do. Finally, Sue has a friend who lives there and he gave the city high marks.

We are still planning on going to Italy for March and April. Sue’s brother and sister-in-law are celebrating an anniversary by going to Italy at in the beginning of March and we are going to meet them in Rome. We will all spend a few days in Rome and then we are planning to head south the Sorrento for the rest of the month. Once again, it is warm; we can spend our time exploring Pompeii, Herculaneum and Capri. April, we plan to head north, probably to Tuscany. That should allow us to spend the weekends traveling throughout northern Italy. However, since we have not booked places to stay in either of these places, both are subject to change.

We are still planning on returning to the US in early May, so while we had hoped to get to both London and Amsterdam, those places may be on hold for now.

The S & S Lemonade Company

We are working hard to make lemonade from the lemons we have been given. Last week, we had the next six months all planned. One week in Barcelona, three months in Fez, a month and a half in Rome and then a couple of weeks in Amsterdam. Then COVID reared its ugly head again and handed us a bunch of lemons. Morocco closed its borders for a minimum of 14 days beginning the 28th of November, the US added travel restrictions, and the EU seemed to be getting increasing jittery about travelers.

Our original plan was to fly from New York to Barcelona on the 1st of December, then on to Morocco on the 7th. When Morocco closed, we changed our plan by re-booking our flight to Morocco for the 14th and found a new AirBnB for the (now) two weeks in Barcelona. On the 30th of November we drove up to New York for a business dinner and then had lunch on the 1st with my aunt and uncle. During lunch we found out that our flight to Fez on the 14th was canceled and that all the flights to Fez were canceled for the entire month.

We now had two choices. First, take our flight to Barcelona and hope that Morocco re-opened on the 12th, and that the flights would be re-instituted. Second, cancel our flights to Barcelona and all our AirBnB’s and then figure out a new plan. Our decision was made either easier or complicated because we only had about 17 days left for our Schengen zone visa and we really do not want to overstay.  

After a long walk and a discussion, we decided to postpone the trip. Sue got in touch with Delta and cancelled our flights to Barcelona (which were leaving in about 4 hours). We had already checked out of our hotel, so we made a reservation at 50 Bowery, where we stayed back in May. Once we checked in, we worked on a short-term plan. We let our families know that the trip was on hold and as they always do, they rallied round and offered us any assistance we would need. My mother, ever resourceful and for some reason, wanting to see us again; convinced one of her friends to lend us her condo until the end of December as it was going to be empty until the New Year.

Once that was settled, everything else fell into place. In the morning, we rented a car and drove to my sister’s house where we collected our trusty 2006 Saab 93 convertible (Quote of the day is from our brother in law: A wise person would take the Prius (our other car) to Florida, but I assumed you would take the Saab – he knows us so well!) On Friday morning, we drove to our storage locker and swapped our cool weather clothes for warm weather gear. We stayed last night at my son’s house in Baltimore (and just happened to spend a little bit of time with our granddaughter). This morning we headed down 95 for the first 800 miles of the trip. Nine hours later, we are comfortably seated in our hotel in Brunswick, Georgia. Tomorrow we will do the last 400 miles and then settle in for the month.

What will the new year bring? We don’t know. Our plan is see if Morocco opens up before year end. If it does, we will likely resurrect a slightly shorter version of the original trip. If not, then perhaps we will head to someplace warm for the rest of the winter. Costa Rica, Belize or Martinique all seem like possibilities, or perhaps somewhere in South America.

We promise to keep you posted. In the meantime, I want to sign off with two thoughts: First, we are incredibly grateful to everyone in our families who offered us food, lodging, support and any assistance we might need without a second thought. Second, we were forcefully reminded that we need to be flexible. If Morocco isn’t in the cards for this year, then something else will be. No point in trying to swim upstream, we will just go with the flow.

I will add one more thing: We know that we are lucky in that we can afford to spend another night in a hotel in New York and take a bit of a loss on our AirBnB. We have flexibility partly because we have resources.

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

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

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.