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April 18, 2007

French school

I've decided to take French again. I've signed up for an intensive French school in Villefranche sur Mer - Institut de Français. I visited Nice and the Alpes Maritime area in 2000 for a hiking trip. I read about the school in the Delta in flight magazine on flight back to the US. It sounded so interesting.

I decided it was finally time to give it a try. I send off my application and I am in the September class. It is for four weeks. I'm going to get a studio apartment. I could stay with a family but I think I'd like to have the freedom of an apartment. I might get lonely but it might also be great fun.

G is interested in coming over at the end of my classes and we will visit the gardens of the Riviera. It is actually a good time since salvias and other Mediterranean plants bloom in the fall. We will probably spend a week or so touring the Riviera and maybe Piemonte.

May 14, 2007

Nice

I've started to research the Côte D'Azur and region around Nice and VilleFranche sur Mer. I've been to Nice twice. Our first trip was back in 1996. We used it as a 'jump-off point' to other places in the region. We rented a car and drove up into the Alpes Maritime and Barcelonnette. We drove up over the Col de la Bonette. It was sunny in Nice but by time we reached the Col, it was a torrential downpour with hail. G was really worried since we could barely see where we were going. But we made it and had a relaxing stay at the Azteca Hotel in Barcelonnette. We toured back to Nice and then took the ferry to Corsica.

My next trip was solo. I took a hiking trip and met the group in Vence. I flew into Nice and spent the afternoon in Vieux Nice before taking the bus to Vence.

But it is hard to research Nice in forums and on the web. I've been trying other tags such as French Riviera, Côte D'Azur, and Villefranche sur Mer. But I did find a great video on YouTube that I thought I'd share. I love the presentation and the music in this video - Enjoy!

June 26, 2007

No longer a cell-phone virgin

We have been avoiding getting a cell-phone for ages. We just haven't really seen the need. We don't normally talk to a lot of people on the phone. My job involves a lot of phone work so I prefer to not be connected once I leave work. Of course, there have been times when it would be handy. Our cat sitter would have liked to have had a phone number to reach us several times. It would be handy rendez-vous with friends or calling when you are late. And of course, it could help in an auto emergency. But we've been able to hold out this long.

But I'm going to need a phone when I am at school in France. I will just feel more comfortable with one plus a lot of rentals no longer have a land phone.

A co-worker said he had a spare quad-band phone that he wasn't using and it was unlocked. This sounded perfect. But I thought I should probably become familiar with it before I leave. So today I went to T-Mobile and picked up a SIM. I talked with a rep on Saturday and he was very helpful. I explained I wanted the cheapest way to get into a phone and that I already had a phone. It turns out to be more expensive to purchase a SIM than it is to get the low end phone to go. Or I think?

The SIM was $50 but came with 100 minutes. The Nokia was $30 with $10 of phone time. I'm still not certain what was best but I got the Nokia (which I won't use). I'm going to use my friend's phone which is a nice Samsung camera phone with a lot of options. It even came with an international plug adapter.

But since it was also T-Mobile, I'm not certain if it is unlocked. I've installed the SIM and it is charging. I'll call customer service tomorrow to see if it is unlocked. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If not, I'll send it to a place locally to get it unlocked. Unfortunately, that will be another $25. It is now getting to the point where it might have been just cheaper to purchase a phone in France. Or to try a different US carrier.

But I'm learning.

June 27, 2007

Menton and Luberon

I finally made some progress on our plans for the two weeks after the class. We definitely want to tour the gardens on the Riviera. I came across several garden tours the first week of October. It sounds unusual to tour the gardens in the fall but it is actually a good time. There are summer rains which will rejuvenate the gardens and there is a second bloom early in October. It is perfect timing for us since my classes are over at the end of September.

I have been looking for places to stay on the Riviera, either in France or Italy. I have had a bit of difficulty finding a place. Menton is my first choice. I didn't have any luck at first along the coast so I have been looking a bit inland at places such as Vence and Grasse. So many of the places are large villas that will not work for us.

I finally go a chance to focus on getting our accomodations this weekend and I found a place in Menton that looks like it will work for us. It is along the harbor but it does not look like it will be too difficult to get in and out and there is public parking near by. I'll post more information as soon as I confirm that we have the rental.

I also sent off the deposit today on a rental in the Luberon for the second week. Paolo has a great site for information on the Luberon area. We are renting La Madeleine . We want to hike and get a chance to get out into the country. I'm excited.

July 13, 2007

French Lessons

I finished my first week of semi-intensive French at Alliance Francais here in Seattle. I have been studying grammar on my own and listening to podcasts. My favorite so far is Ma France video podcasts at the BBC Language. I also really enjoyed the French podcasts from the Australian site - World Languages Podcast.

But I also needed something that would force me to speak French before my class in Villefranche sur Mer. So I signed up for beginning French at Alliance Francais. I took two session back in 2000 before I went hiking in the Alpes Maritime. They were very good. Unfortunately, they only have Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced so I'm back at the very beginning.

The instructor is a young woman from Paris. She is very enthusiastic. The class has a mix of different level students. There are a couple of high school students who are doing additional study in summer. Everyone is there for fun. And I'm attempting to speak. My accent is terrible but this is good. I might be able to start a little bit beyond beginner when I get to France.

So far this week, we have learned to introduce ourselves, learned about feminine and masculine nouns, learned professions and a little bit of etiquette when meeting someone to understand when to use vous or tu.

The class is three days a week for two hours. It is disrupting our schedule but G is very supportive. I leave for work around 7:30, work until about 5:30, go to class and then getting home around 8:30 in time for a late dinner. My computer time is getting seriously impacted. But change is good.

July 21, 2007

Dreaming of Luberon

I've been sitting here this evening listening to the warm raindrops on the leaves. We are having an unseasonable rainstorm. They say it is remnants of the Man-Yi that hit Japan earlier this week. On the warm evening breeze, I can smell the faint aroma of the Tilleul (Linden) tree just outside the door. It is one of my favorite scents and it reminds me of Southern France.

We watched the file "A Good Year" last night. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. The scenery was the star. I wanted to see the scenes of Luberon where we will be staying in October. There were a couple of great shots of Gordes and the other small villages.

Kaydee also posted about Lioux which is close to our rental. They hiked to the top of the falaise at Lioux. Previously they hiked a loop trip during their stay last winter. This approach looks a little harder but lovely views. It was a terribly hot day. I was reading today how some of the forests are closed due to fire danger. She mentioned it in her post.

After reading her post, I have been web researching the Luberon. There will be so much to do. For now, I will dream.

July 29, 2007

France 2007

I thought I would give an update on my plans for the France trip. I've detailed some of it under the France category but I haven't pulled it all together in a single post. Kim and Pauline have both asked about it.

Aug 30 - Fly to Nice
I'm flying via Amsterdam to Nice France. I'll be spending two nights in Nice before I start my French classes. I will be staying at Hotel Les Cigales . It looks nice and had good reviews on Trip Advisor.. It will be a little bit away from the tram construction but within easy access to pedestrian area and Vieux Nice.

Sept 2 - 27 - Institut de Francais - Villefranche sur Mer
I will be taking French lessons at Institut de Francais in Villefranche sur Mer. I've have an apartment through the school and I will check in Sunday before classes start. It will be a studio apartment. I won't be able to see it before so I hope it is nice.

Sept 28 - Nice or Villefranche sur Mer
G will arrive and we will be in a hotel before we move to Menton. I haven't decided if I will stay in Nice or Villefranche sur Mer.

Sept 29 - Oct 5 - Menton
I found this apartment right on the harbor in Menton.. The owner has been so helpful. She sent me a lot of information on the apartment and what to do in the area. We plan to visit the gardens of the Riviera and Menton is the garden city of the Riviera. There are several gardens right in the city and nearby is Hanbury Gardens just across the border in Italy.

Oct 6 - Oct 12 - Lioux Luberon
We have not been to the Luberon area of Provence. We will be staying in the country at La Madeleine rental in a small hamlet near Lioux. We hope to do a little bit of hiking in addition to visiting the hill towns.

Oct 13 - Nice
One last night before our early flight back. We'll probably stay at the airport after dropping off the car.

A month more and I'm off.


August 16, 2007

Fini

I finished my semi-intensive beginning French course today. I am so glad that I took it before my classes in France because I didn't realize how much I had forgot. I hope I can get into a semi-beginner class in when I get to France - fingers are crossed.

The class started with 10 students and at then end there were only three left. We started going faster near the end and ended up covering a little bit of passé composé (past tense).

I also dropped of G at the airport today. He flew down to Cali to visit his parents. They are going to the cabin for the weekend. A&B hope to join them. I'm a bit jealous. I love it up at the cabin but I would be too stressed this close to my trip. Two weeks to go!

August 19, 2007

Two weeks to France

I can barely endure the butterflies in my stomach. It is less than two weeks before I leave. I'm a bundle of excitement and anxiousness. I have been researching and research but I'm finally to the point of release and the trip will be what it will be. I have a good idea of what I will be doing on the Côte d'Azur but Provence seems almost an after thought. I'm certain it will be fine. And as for any new area, a lot will be spent just familiarizing ourselves with the area.

I spent the weekend trying to wrap up some of the tasks I had left. I had to reserve a room in Nice for G's arrival, get a car, do a bit more of shopping for clothes and shoes. I wanted something else to wear with capri pants besides my sandals. I ended up getting a pair of Privos that everyone on Slow Travel raves about. I got the Sofritos. They are comfortable but I can already tell there isn't enough arch support for my high arches. I think they will be fine but I'm still going to bring along an insole just in case.

I also pickup a bunch of miscellaneous items like the IDL, another plug adapter, and some items for my new camera. I'm so exited about it. I got the Canon SD800is Elph. I wanted something small and lightweight to carry in my purse. It is perfect. The shots that were posted on Slow Talk convinced me. G will bring over my big camera but I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with this little camera.

I think I'm ready. I'll pack next weekend and see what I can get into my 22" rolling suitcase. I don't want to take anything else. I think I can do it.

August 26, 2007

Planning Marathon

France_plan

We finally had a chance to sit down and do a little bit of planning for our two weeks together in October. We pulled out all the books and started outlining some ideas of what to do. I had a lot of ideas for the Cote d'Azur week. The week is packed. The week in Provence was much more open. As one of the books mentioned "It will be a vacation from your vacation".

Here are some of the plans for Cote d'Azur
- Gardens in Menton
- Jardin Exotique in Monaco
- Villa Ephrussi and Walk around Cap Ferrat
- Nicoise Hill town drive
- Hanbury Garden, Apricale
- Nice Museums

Here are some of the plans for Luberon
- Market in Isle sur La Sorgue
- Cote De Rhone, Orange
- Hike in Lioux area
- Mount Ventoux drive
- Another day hike
- Roussillon/Luberon drive
- Roman ruins drive along with one of the above

We are going to drive between Nice and Luberon through the Haute Provence. We will probably come back along the Autoroute. Our last night will be in St Laurent du Var near the airport.

G was pretty excited. Unfortunately, he won't be leaving for 4 weeks.

August 29, 2007

Bags are packed

My bags are packed and I'm ready to go. I know... it sounds like a song.

I've done well. I've didn't have any problems getting all the clothes I chose into my 22" bag. It wasn't too bad at first but it is a bit more heavy now that I've put a couple of guide books and a French grammar book.

I'm taking more than I normally do. I'm a bit surprised that I'm able to get as much as I have. I have 2 capri, 1 pair of slacks, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of privos, 1 sandal, 4 t-shirts, 3 sleeveless tops, 1 long sleeve top, 1 rain jacket, swimsuit, underwear, 1 sweater. Plus what I will wear on the plane (jeans). G is bringing the hiking boots. For electronics, cell phone, small camera, i-pod, speakers, photo portable disk. 2 guide books. Toiletries.
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G has to work until 7:30 so I'm going to cook a nice fillet of salmon for dinner. I made up 8 frozen dinners for him and left him a list of possible dishes that he can cook.

Now to relax. Tomorrow France!

August 31, 2007

Je suis arrive

I've arrived in France. The trip over was uneventful other than a little delay taking off for Nice. I wasn't able to sleep much on the plane even with a Tylenol PM. The plane was an airbus 300 which had its own private entertainment center. That was nice. I got to watch a nice Hindi bollywood movie.

We arrived early in Amsterdam and the layover was long so I decided to take the train into Amsterdam Centraal. I got through customs, caught the train and made it Centraal Stations by 8:30. The Dutch are so efficient. I walked up Damrak to the Dam and then over to the canals. It was rush hour and the bikes were flying by. It was also garbage day so there was a lot of activity. Nothing much was open but it was peaceful to walk. I spent about 1 hour meandering through the streets before returning to the airport.

It is a beautiful 75 degrees here in Nice. I found my hotel, Les Cigales, very easily. I took the 98 bus from the airport and got off at Congress stop. It was about a 4 block walk. I tried my Costco phone card but the French number isn't working.

So I headed off to get a card to charge my cell phone. They are everywhere. I also walked along the pedestrian area and into the old town. The flower market was just breaking up.

They are still working on the tram system. One part is finished near the old town but otherwise it is still working on it.

Well I'm off to eat dinner.

September 1, 2007

Nice is Nice

I just couldn't resist that title. Another day on the French Riviera. No jet lag. I think I have walked the hell out of my jet lag between Amsterdam and Nice. My feet are definitely a little sore.

Last night, I had a nice little dinner near the hotel in Il Vinaino. Roz had mentioned it in her trip report and I recognized it. I was feeling tired so I ended up being the first person in the restaurant. It is bad enough that I'm a single woman looking for a table but to also have to be the first person. It was about 7:15 - definitely early. I had a bowl of linguine with shrimp and zucchini. And two glasses of Barbera and a decaf espresso. I was expecting to get it in a little cup as I have in Italy and Seattle but this came in a small little glass like a shot glass.

I decided I wanted an ice cream so I headed off to Vieux Nice to get a gelato. Fennocchio is the place to get it in the old city. I got a chocolate and chili scoop. Spicy. Then it was back to hotel and surprising I fell asleep fine. I woke up about 2am, read a little bit and fell back.

This morning I joined a tour of the old town given by the tourist bureau. It was in English and French and was 3 hours long. It was very informative and interesting. It was also interesting to see the interaction between the French speakers and the English speakers making certain that everything was covered in both languages.

I only got to see a little bit of the market in Cours Saleya but I did get to stop at Chez Teresa for a helping of socca and a glass of rose. Socca is a pancake made of chickpea flower and baked in a wood oven. The ovens are down several small rues in the center of the old city but she has a stand in the market until 1pm. I kept seeing this motorcycle with a trailer that looked like a covered wok. It was black so I had a feeling it had something to do with a wood stove. It turns out that the socca is backed at her restaurant and carted by moto to her stand in the market. I got there just before it was fini. It was interesting and good.

After the market, I headed up to do some museums. I took the 15 bus up to the Cimiez area passing several large Belle Epoque buildings and hotels. I started with the Matisse museum which I found a little disappointing. Then I walked about 20 minutes back down the hill to the Chagall museum which was wonderful. The focus is on his biblical paintings done later in his life but there were also several other interesting paintings along with a mural. I love his dream like paintings of the couples along with the strange animals. Unfortunately, they did not have a handout. G will be bringing another guide book with him that describes more and we are going to see it together.

I am enjoying Nice. Our first trip to Nice was so-so. Our hotel was up behind the train station and we seemed to always be walking back and forth. This time my hotel is much closer to the Promenade d'Anglais so I feel much more in the center of the tourist activity. We also seemed to be hassled much more. So far, no hassling.

I sat this afternoon in a bar/cafe and watched the people go by. Such a diverse crowd. Everything from young Brittney Spears wanna bees to old French ladies shopping to the British tourist. The tourist are so varied. I was following a couple on the way to the internet. They were both short - about 5 feet, heavy in the hips wearing shorts. Her shorts were white muslin fabric and his were striped red. She had black hair held up with little red clippees. They were throughly enjoying their vacation. I also watched the variety of people strolling along the Promenade d'Anglais. The best was two young fathers roller blading along the Promenade with their babies in strollers.

It is lonely traveling by myself. I like the ability to just go where I want to and change my mind whenever. That is such a luxury when you travel alone. But there is no one to share it with and I get tired of eating by myself. I'm jealous Kim, Colleen and Shannon. They are thoroughly enjoying Paris. Check out Kim's blog and Shannon's Blog .

I need to get back to hotel and soak my feet. I hope they didn't get sunburned.

September 2, 2007

Villefranche

I moved on today and I'm in my apartment for a month. It is very nice. I got one of the 'better' studios which has a view. Of course, I didn't think about the fact that to have a view, you will be up the hill. I up above the school. - on the same street about a 5 minute walk from the school - all up hill. I'm going to get both a month of French and a month of exercise.

Last night I had a nice relaxing dinner at Restaurant au Marie just off the busy pedestrian mall. It was in Rick Steve's but it is not an inexpensive restaurant. You enter down an arched tunnel which opens into a courtyard. Part of it s covered with flowering vines. I started with a nicoise specialty, farci, which are stuffed vegetables. Very tasty and reminded me of my mother's stuffed bell peppers. I had a whole grilled sea base (loup). It was perfect. I needed a nice protein dinner. After I walked to the old town again and had an ice cream.

This morning I walked to Gare Routier to catch the bus to Villefranche. The bus runs the whole line of the coast on to Monaco, Menton and Villemille in Italy (I spelled that wrong). It was packed. I stood but fortunately it was a short ride on the Corniche Basse. We rounded a corner and I saw the huge cruise ship so I knew I was close. Villefranche has a deep harbor so the ships harbor here instead of Nice.

I went to Chez Betty and picked up my key. It was straight up - about a 20 minute walk. I found the apartment with a little mistake. I went to the wrong building but I finally figured it out. The apartment is very nice. It is actually a 1 bedroom with a full kitchen and bathroom. It has a balcony and a nice view out over the harbor.

I unpacked and then went back down to get an idea about the town. It was about 2pm so I went to lunch. I don't remember the spelling of the restaurant but it was recommended by Germaine. I had a large bowl of spaghetti with mussels and shrimp. Dinner for tonight.

I've walked around a little bit more and found the internet cafe. I suspect this will be my home for a while. Time to walk back up.

September 3, 2007

Le premier jour

It is the end of the first day of school at the Institut de Francais. I am at a bar typing on a very poor computer especially for a touch typer. The space bar is a pain and I only have 20 minutes left.

The first day was mostly administration and testing. I was to arrive at 8:30 punctually so I got there at 8:25 and I was one of the last to arrive. But I was not late. We have our breakfast of pain, beurre, confecture et cafe et the. There are people from many countries at the school. At my table, there were two women from Norway, a woman from Australia, an 88 year old woman from DC and several people from the US. After breakfast, we had our test - 6 parts, listening, reading, listening and saying if the phrases were the same and writing. After the test we went to the grand salon and waited to be called 3 times. One time for administration regarding tuition and rent, the second time for the oral test and the third time for lunch. I got so nervous I am certain that I did not do well on the test. I just hope I make it to beginner 2.

Lunch was very good, shredded carrot salad with mustard dressing and baked chicken and ratatouille. After lunch a short break and I exchanged money. The afternoon we heard about the method of teaching and the rules. Also some optional items such as a boat ride,tour of the city and a field trip to St Paul de Vence. We could still speak English today but none after tomorrow.

I also found out that there is a good grocery store above my apartment. I was saved. I did not look forward to hauling my groceries up from the center of town. I will not know what class I am in until tomorrow morning. My fingers are crossed.

After the class, I met my landlady. She lives next door. I paid her and asked her how to run the washing machine. It is very different. It loads from the top and there is a metal spinner sideways to what I find in the US. You open it like you would open a lottery spinner. It worked as I thought. I had the instructions book in English and figured it out. Also, a woman will come in once a week to clean. Yeah!

For dinner, I bought some fresh pasta, pesto, wonderful fresh tomme chevre and a pale bottle of rose. Oh yeah also a salad. I took the dinner to my balcony/lanai and wait watching the sun go down.

My cellphone is working fine. I've been able to call George twice and my friend called me. They are here for a week and called from Cannes. We are having dinner tomorrow after my classes.

Everyone is so friendly. I know I will like it a lot. It is not so lonely today but I'm not certain how it will be when I can only speak French. Tonight after dinner, I walked down to the old city to get my internet fix. Of course, the main internet place was closed. Lundi. I am now at the back up at Chez Betty.

Time to walk back up the hill. I probably will not write again for couple of days but until then... Au revoir.

September 4, 2007

Intermediate 1

Yippee! I really didn't want to have to take Beginning French again. I was ready to accept advanced beginners but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I made it to the intermediate class. I am in intermediate 1 - one of 4 intermediate levels.

After breakfast, the director announced our teachers. I am so happy with my teacher. It is the woman who did my oral test and she is so nice. And she is also an excellent teacher. There are 10 students in my class; 5 Americans, 2 Swiss, 2 English and 1 Japanese. We are all at similar levels which is good.

We began the class by introducing ourselves in French, saying what our nationality is, where we live, if we are married and what we like to do. We quickly move into a bit of grammar - Les articles. The time goes fast and soon it is time for lunch. Today, we ate with the teacher and she helped us to make conversation.

After lunch was the practical session. We gather together with the intermediate 2 class and practiced items that we would find useful. We broke up into pairs and got to know another person by asking questions in French. Then a few people volunteered to introduced their partner to the whole group. I got brave and did it. Yes, in front of the class. Speaking in front of group terrifies me but I felt if I don't try - I'm never going to learn.

In the afternoon session, we repeated the concepts that we had been using all day - asking a few questions, explaining what we like, where we live and our nationality.

Finally it was time for the afternoon tea and the end of classes.

I walked back up to my apartment and realized how nervous I was. I was still shaking. It took about 15 minutes and a glass of wine to calm my nerves.

But I had a treat for my end of my first day. Our good friends from San Francisco are spending a week in Cannes and we were going to go to dinner. I had my fingers crossed that they were going to be able to find my apartment especially coming from the Corniche basse. Google gave them directions that way. I thought it would be easier to go via the Corniche Moyenne (middle).

The streets in Villefranche are extremely narrow. Many are one way with high stone walls. In some places, there is barely space for a car. The streets also go so far and you have to turn onto another street to continue going the same way.

My friends called just about at 5:30 and they were almost at my apartment. They found it! It was challenging even with GPS. We headed off to town to eat at the Wharf. I thought I knew the way but ended up going the wrong way. But we finally made it and there were places in the publich parking lot.

We sat at bar along the wharf with a glass of champagne flavored with a local peach liquor. Yummm. Similar to a Bellini. Soon it was time for dinner. The sun was turning the houses amber. The lights slowly started to twinkle. But best of all was good conversation with good friends - in English.

September 5, 2007

Getting into a routine

What a beautiful day. The last few days have had a slight overcast and it was even pretty cloudy. But today was crystal clear. The sun peaks through the shutters around 7am. I try to sleep a bit more but no luck. Instead, I made a cup of coffee and move out to the balcony to watch the morning.

We have moved on to verbs in class today at the Institut. We practiced our -er verbs. Then we moved on to practicing the numbers. And then the 'laboratoire'. This was very difficult. You are in booths with headphones, the instructor tells you to ask a question, you try to form the question. Then you hear the question and you repeat the question. The second part today was conjugating the verbs in a sentence. It is a lot harder than it sounds. We all had difficulties with it.

But at least I was not as nervous today. I am still very slow at forming a question and I have to really think about it. But it will get better - I think.

Tomorrow, we have an extra activity after class. They have organized an option boat trip. I hope it will be as nice as today.

Argent

I had my ATM blocked. I called WaMu before I left but they still blocked it. WaMu has a new phone menu and I could not figure out what item to select to tell them I was going out of the country. I looked up the web and found a way around the menu. Or so I thought. Whoever I talked to must have been a backup person and they did not enter that I was going out of the country. I should have guessed something was up because they did not tell me to call back in 30 days. Capital One said they could only put the out of country alert on for 30 days.

My ATM card worked fine in Amsterdam and when I arrived in Villefranche. But when I tried to use it a second time in Villefranche, it was refused. I thought it was because I was using it within 24 hours of the last usage. So I waited and tried again before I went to dinner with my friends. I was refused a second time. Eck! I was down to 20 euros. I wanted to panic but I stayed calm and did enjoy dinner.

But I called right after I got back to my apartment. I had to talk to fraud to explain that I was in Europe and yes I did withdrawal money in Amsterdam and France. I totally understand and appreciate it because Bank of America stopped the fraud when my credit card number was stolen via the internet in January. They also called G. He tried to help but I had already contacted them and got the hold released.

What I don't appreciate is the difficulty it is to communicate with WaMu. Their new phone system is so difficult. Their menu is geared towards a certain customer and they have no options for other services. I have been a customer of theirs for 25 years but I am seriously considering leaving. Their service is so poor.

But I'm back in the cash now.

September 6, 2007

Grammar

Today was grammar day at the September session of Institut de Francais. The beginning (debutants) and intermediate students got together and we had 3 hours of grammar in English. The instructor went over the articles and the verbs. We will get to use present, past and simple future tense in the 4 weeks. It is great that they went over it in English. It was fast but as the instructor said, we will practice practice practice.

The rest of the day was similar to yesterday. A session going over practical items. Today we learned how to great a friend that you meet. In the Cote d'Azur, you bissou (kiss) twice. In Avignon - three times. In Normandy 4 times.

After the practical, we had the language laboratory. It went much better today. Our homework last night was how to from a question. We will continue to work on this.

Unfortunately, the boat trip was canceled. The wind and sea swells were too big. It has been rescheduled for Monday. Tomorrow is the soirée. A buffet and dancing for all the students.

Evening stroll

Villefranche sur mer

I love the activity in the old city. At sundown, I stroll along the cobble-stoned paths and alleys of the old town. The ochre, siena and white-wash colors of the walls blend together under the sodium lights to an amber glow. Dark shadows accent the corners.

Chairs and tables spill out onto the narrow paths. The murmurs drift around the corners along with the clink and clank of silverware as people dine. Laughter is mixed with the faint hum of the neon lights.

Salty marine air awakens my nose to the smells of dinner - garlic, saffron, fish, basil and wine. Along with dinner is the faint smell of musty age.

Challenges

Voices are echoing in my head. I hear my teacher throughout the night and as I fall asleep. "Repeatez" "Il y a ..." "C'est ..." "Un petit problem..."

But I am really enjoying the challenge of Institut de Francais. I think what I miss at work is a challenge. Yes, there are items that are challenging at work but nothing that inspires me. The school is stimulating, the students and teachers enthusiastic. I hope I feel the same way next week.

Happy Anniversary

I want to wish my husband a happy anniversary and thank you for 32 wonderful years. And THANK YOU for the opportunity to come to France.

I love you.

September 8, 2007

Journées Méditerranéennes du Jardin

It is the end of the first week. It is going so fast but it is also great fun. By Friday, my mind was pretty wasted. I was tired and I had a bit of difficulty thinking in French. I was especially tired after lunch. We went immediately to the practical session where we discussed how to talk about your job and immediately after the practical into the laboratory to practice sentences using irregular verbs. I haven't memorized my irregular verbs yet so I did terribly. During our afternoon break, I went to a bench in the garden and took a quick cat nap. It worked. I was much better at the end of the afternoon.

We gathered again in the evening for a soiree. The school held an evening get together. We could speak in our native tongue but several people continued to speak French. I didn't. I really enjoy the other students in my class. We get along really well and I wanted to talk to them. We had a buffet dinner followed by dancing. To break the ice, we did a couple of dancing games which were great fun. I was exhausted by the end of the day.

Today, we had a tour of the city where we learned the history of the region. The citadel has been maintained and is now the city hall. There was a wedding going on since you are married first in a civil ceremony. It was great walking the old ramparts and hearing Lohengrin.

The tour was over at noon. I grabbed a quick bit to eat at the boulangerie. Then I caught bus 100 for Menton. There was a special open garden day - Journées Méditerranéennes du Jardin. One of the private gardens that I wanted to see - Clos du Peyronnet - was part of the tour. It took about 1 hour by bus. It was crowded since it also goes to Monaco and many of the beaches along the coast. The ride was beautiful. As we passed Monaco, the cities became a bit more Italian and the coast more tropical.

The visitors bureau told me to go to a park along the beach and I could book a tour there. I wasn't certain if I could get in to garden on Saturday but I had my fingers crossed. The Journees was actually a plant vendor show at the park along with being an open garden weekend. Several wholesalers and nurseries which specialized in mediterranean plants were set up on the grass in the park. The variety of plants was exceptional. G would have loved it. My favorite plant was a Bauhinia. In the center were activities for children. They could make a floral hat, draw and lots of other activities for the children. I was able to get the final ticket for Clos du Peyronnet and bus transportation. Yeah!

I wasn't certain exactly where to catch the bus. I guessed it would be in front and the bus would be white. At 3pm, I looked around and saw several other people with tickets lining up. I guessed correctly. The bus took us along the seaside to the Italian border. Along the way, we passed by the apartment we are renting after the school. The area looks great. Just before the Italian border, we turned and went a short way up into the hills.

The bus dropped us off and we walked down a sentier (footpath) that went along the side of the garden. We waited a few minutes and the owner came out and greeted us and invited us into the garden. He gave the tour in French but I was able to follow most of it. There were many facinating plants in the garden. He has been collecting acasias (mimosa) and is growing many fruit trees; guavas, avocados, chirimoya. There are wonderful paths and vista throughout the garden along with several ponds stairstepping down the hill. Right now, the garden looks a little tired. Everything was dried especially with the drought but you could see the good structure and the love that has gone into the garden.

The bus returned us to the show and I walked the main pedestrian streets of Menton. Saturday is a busy shopping day and the streets where crowded. Not surprisingly, I heard more Italian than French. Menton is a popular day trip for Italians. I found an italian deli and bought some fresh raviolis for dinner.

It was already 6:30 and time to return. The buses only run until about 7:30 so I needed to make certain I caught one back. I could also take the train. It was wonderful riding along the coast with the rays of sun shinning between the coastal hills - watching the sea and coast turn pink.

September 9, 2007

Gourmet Nice

God I am tired. I don't know if it was the dancing or the long day yesterday. I barely wanted to move today. My leg muscles screamed out - stay home. But I knew it would probably be best to move.

I didn't get a chance to investigate the market in Cour Saleya in Nice last weekend. Plus I saw several interesting little vendors selling items I wanted to try. So I forced myself out of bed, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed back down to catch the bus to Nice. The market is everyday but Monday until a little after 12:00pm. Luck was on my side and the bus pulled up shortly after I arrived at the stop. 45 minutes after leaving my apartment, I was in Nice.

I hope they renovate the bus station in Nice some day. It is so depressing. I know most bus stations are pretty depressing but this one is a concrete covered parking lot. I've only been there on Sunday and the office is closed. Along the side the street is torn up with construction for the tram which doesn't help.

Anyway, I cross though the road work and I'm immediately into the old town. I'm not completely certain where I am but I just decide to walk and follow the way most people are walking. Soon I recognize Place Rossetti and the Cathdrale de Ste Reparte. People are darting around shopping or siting and drinking an express. I continue on towards the Cours and I pass the fresh pasta places that I had seen last time. One is beautiful. There are large tortellini - triangular shaped hats in multiple colors. There is also gnocchi, merde di can - spinach (or chard) flavored gnocchi, which is dark green/grey. It's name translates to 'dog shit'. It sounds unappetizing but looks good.

The market is crowded. People shuffle along looking and taking the offerings of the marketers. Fresh olives, fresh melons for the tasting. It is fig season and they are beautiful. Some are presented in baskets with a fig leaf. There are also bakers, cheese makers, socca vendors, flower vendors. I decide to buy a fragrant melon - just over 2 euros. Then I head back to the pasta vendors. At the intersection of Rue Ste Repartate and Rue de la Prefecture - it is gourmet heaven. There are two fresh pasta vendors. Raviolis Maison Tosello and across the street is Raviolis Barali.

On my last trip in 2000, I had some wonderful raviolis with a sauce daube. I have been dreaming of those raviolis ever since. Both of the shops had daube sauce - It is a sauce made from pot roast and dried mushrooms, herb seasoned and with a bit of tomato flavoring. Excellent! I decided on the ravioli nicoise and sauce daube at Raviolis Barali.

Across the street is La Poulette - They sell both roasted chicken and fresh poultry. The whole rabbits are always hard to look at but the roasted chicken smelled wonderful. They also sell a wide variety of cheese. I decided on a fresh local goat cheese. It was hard to decide since I really enjoyed the fresh Banon Tomme I had last week.

Also on Rue Ste Repartate, were several other small gourmet shops. Fresh roasted coffee at Cafe Indenes and cookies by the ounce at La Cure Gourmande. Near by were also several fresh ice creme shops including Fenocchio. I had my fixings for dinner.

But before I head back to Villefranche, there was one more museum to visit. Close by wa MAMAC, the modern art museum. I really enjoyed it. The building itself is very interesting. It is a round building built over a street and open in the middle. Escalators take you up the floors. It felt very similar to the Koohaus design for the Seattle Library. The galleries are open rooms which were good to display the diverse modern art work. Bridges take you between the two halves and cross above the street. I really enjoyed Niki de St. Phalle retrospective. I want to go back again when G is here.

It took longer to get back to Villefranche. The cruise ships are in, church is out and everyone is headed for the beach or Monaco. There was a traffic jam and the bus stopped for a while a bit outside of VSM. I slowly trudged up the hill and spent the rest of the afternoon resting and doing homework.

For dinner, the ravioli were as wonderful as I remember. They had a touch of spice - I think cloves are in them. The daube sauce was excellent. I'm definitely going back next week for another take out.

You can read more about Gourmet Nice in this article from France Today.

September 11, 2007

Deuxième semaine

It is going pretty well this week. The passe compose is fine but I struggle making a question and answering. I struggle the most with Qu'est-ce que ... Our instructor has us answer "we do know not if ...". I really struggle remembering "ce que". Je ne sais pas ce qu'il ..... Then there is quand, qui, comment de, .... Sigh. I got pretty good at seeing the question and writing it. But when I went into the laboratory and I had to orally form and answer the questions, I seemed to forget everything. Thankfully everyone is having the same issue.

Yesterday, we took our boat ride along the coast. It was great. We went around Cap Ferrat, into the harbor at Beaulieu and then on eastward to Monaco. I was not at all impressed with Monaco. The buildings were too dense and it seemed sterile even from the water. There were many high-rise apartments so it appeared a little bit like Hong Kong. Also everything was modern (except the Palace).

After the boat ride, a bunch of us went out to dinner. It was fun to get to know my fellow students.

I also found out on Monday that I have to do an 'expose'. That might not be the correct word. Basically, I have to talk about something in French in front of the class for 5-10 minutes. Oh-La-La. I hate speaking in front of a group in English. I do not think I'm going to like doing it in French any better. But I have over a week to prepare. I will give my expose on Friday - Sept 21st.

September 13, 2007

It is becoming a blur

What day is it? Okay, from class I know ... C'est le 13 Septembre 2007 or C'est Jeudi 13 Septembre 2007 but it all seems a blur. Is it Thursday already?

Last night we had a group dinner at one of the hotels here in Villefranche. It was great for socializing but the food was so-so. For once, I'm glad I had the beef. Everyone said the fish was very bland. But I really enjoyed talking to people. And I got to talk in English. Unfortunately, I think our table got a little loud and we were not all Americans!

The lunches at the Institut have been very good. We usually have an entree (hors d'oeuvre), main dish and a small dessert. For example today we started with cut cantaloupe and watermelon. The main dish was scalloped potatoes with salmon baked together. Dessert was a lemon meringue tart. I've been cooking dinner 'chez moi'. Usually pasta because it is fast and cheap.

So far, two other classmates have given their talk. They have gone pretty well. I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to talk about. It will probably be about where I live. It will be easier to talk about than other subjects. Everyone thinks I'm going to talk about plants since I've been going to gardens but I don't know enough about plants. Plus it would be difficult to have to explain in French. It will be easier talking about Washington State.

This weekend I'm going to go to Monaco to see the Princess Grace exhibition and check out the Casino. One of the women at the school wants to go and is a little uncertain about traveling by herself so we are going together. I'm no certain what I'm going to do Sunday. I might take the train up into the mountains.


September 14, 2007

Rugby

Tonight I'm watching the rugby game. It is England versus South Africa. I'm for the Springboks but most everyone is for England in the bar. I think I'll stick around to see what happens. Tomorrow - Monaco and the Princess Grace exhibit.

September 15, 2007

L'Escalier

I found a new way to get down the hill. Actually I was shown it after dinner on Wednesday by another student who lives along the stairway. I like it better because I can avoid the traffic. I usually don't take it back up to my apartment because there are too may steps for me. And if I'm coming up at night, I prefer the openness of the street although I have to listen and dodge the cars. It is lit so it might be okay.

I also like to take it because it is lined with interesting tropical plants. As I start down in the evening, a sweet fragrance wafts up. I think it is the 4 o'clock flowers. I grew up with them in California and I still remember them. Bougainvillea is very common in the gardens along with the tall hedges of cypress and juniper. There is also passion vine, deadly nightshade and two tropical vines that I had to ask G about. One is related to black eyed susan vine - Thunbergia grandiflora. It is a lovely large lavender blue flower with a yellow throat. I love it. Oleander is very common and is in all the gardens. There is another light baby-blue flower that I haven't identified. I described it to G and he couldn't figure out what I meant. I also saw a wonderful scarlet red honeysuckle. At the end of the stairway is a huge banana plant complete with fruit. Bananas and lemons grow year around in Menton. I've also seen Angel trumpet (Brugmansia) in the gardens. Of course, there are also many olive, citrus, acasia, magnolia and sycamore trees. G is going to love it here.

September 16, 2007

Monaco

Saturday, I met Anna and some other students to go to the Grace Kelly Exhibit. Anna was very stressed about taking the bus and knowing where to get off. I told her that I knew where to go but she still wanted to figure it out herself. I hope I can do what she is doing when I am 88 years old.

The exhibition was very interesting. I really enjoyed seeing it with her. We had very interesting discussions about fashion in the '60s and about Grace Kelly's life. Anna has a great memory of the time. It brought back some good memories for me from the time when I sewed. In high school and college, I used to sew most of my clothes. It was great fun.

There were many of Grace Kelly's letters from her days as a star, from her courtship and from her time as Princess. Who thought to save all the letters, telegrams and scripts? There were also the gown from her movies, from her wedding and the balls. The gowns from the 50's were very elegant. You could still wear them today and be in style. There were also many gowns from the late '60's and '70s. They were not as interesting. That was a bad fashion time.

The most interesting letters were from Alfred Hitchcock. She did three movies with him. She was one of his favorite actresses and he was very disappointed when she had to give up acting to be a Princess. He was very bizarre. There was this one letter where he wrote that he saw a picture of her with a hat adorned with flowers. She loved hats. Hitchcock wondered what happened to the insects that were attracted by the flowers. Would they die in her hair? Such a bizarre thing to write.

There was not much said about her death. She died on Sept 14, 1982. I guess that makes this the 25th anniversary of her death. Near the end of the exhibit there was a film where she was asked if she was happy. Her answer was very telling. She said she had many happy moments in her life but that she did not think happiness was a constant state. It was a very melancholy.

It took us over three hours to see the whole exhibit. We spent a lot of time reading the letters and watching the movies about her life. We had just a little time to grab a salad before the restaurants closed. We did have a chance to also go to the Casino but we didn't pay the entrance fee to go in and gamble. The Ferrari cars outside were pretty impressive as was the Hotel de Paris next door.

Lazy Sunday Morning

Saturday night, I ran into another student. He is a photographer and we talked about where we had been earlier in the day. He had been to Eze and Monaco on Saturday. We talked about the possibilities for Sunday and he asked if I had been up to Mont Alban yet?

Everynight I see the fort lit on the hill (Mont Alban) above Villefranche. The Count of Savoy built several forts in the area to protect the villages and ports from the French. The citadel at Villefranche was built to protect the city by sea. Mont Alban fort was built to protect the city from attack by land. It was supposed to be an easy walk from the Col de Villefranche where I do my grocery shopping. He said it is a very good place to watch the sun rise.

I woke up at 6:30. It was tough to get out of bed. I was very tired and I wanted to sleep. But I knew I had to get up to get the best light. I got up and got out by 6:45.

All was still. There was an occasional moto and car but not much else. I heard a few birds. I've noticed that there are not very many birds in France. At the Col, I wasn't certain which road to take but I finally found the right road and saw the sign for Mont Alban. The road was steep and narrow. It reminded me a bit of the trail that I took from La Turbie to Peillon on my previous trip to Cote d'Azur. After a short bit, the houses disappear and I saw the hiking trail sign. It points towards a stairway that seems to go on forever. It is paved and passes through an oak forest. I realize I am in the forest on the top of Mont Alban. It is very dry. It has been a long hot summer. Soon I can see Nice laid out below me. In no time, I'm at the fort. It is not open but you can walk around it. There is a gorgeous vista of a red ball rising over the Villefranche harbor. Sunday sunrise. The fort is bathed in the golden light of dawn. On the other side of the mont, the sun rays light Nice and the shadow of the Mont is slowly pulled from the city like a blanket.

I head back down and discover the wonderful bakery at the Col is open. I get two croissants and a London Times newspaper. It is the first newspaper that I've bought.

Back at my apartment - it is time for breakfast on the deck. Two croissants, hot strong coffee, a glass of juice and a newspaper. C'est perfect!

More on Mont Alban Hike

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

After breakfast, I decided to go back to Nice for food again. A quick bus ride and I'm back in the old town. At the stop in Villefranche, I run into another student. She spent all of Saturday visiting the different buildings that were open for the Journee du Patrimoine in Nice. She recommended visiting the Palais des Rois Sardes - an palace which is now the résidence préfectorale. It is not normally open. I completely forgot about the Journee du Patrimoine.

It does not seem as crowded today. I follow the same route as last Sunday passing the pasta shops. I check out the wine store. It has a great selection along with 'fill-your-own-container' wine. I discover that I forgot my camera. I'm jinked. Last Sunday - my camera battery died. This time I forget the camera!

The Palais is gorgeous. Wonderful beautiful mirrored rooms. I love the winter garden room with the pale green furniture and the balconies that look over the Cours Saleya. After visiting the Palais, I went to the Opera. There was a line and the woman in front of me said there was at least a 30 minute wait for the tour. I decided not to wait and head off to shop.

I head back to the market and make my first stop to purchase some fresh vegetables. You use a large pan to hold your selections. You give the owner the pan and they will then weigh your selections. I get a head of lettuce, garlic, several round zucchinis (rond de nice variety) and a large tomato called beef heart. I love the tomatoes. Next stop is back at the wine store for a bottle of Bandol Rose. Next some fresh ricotta raviolis and daube sauce. I also pick up a bagette at a wood burning bakery on Place du Jesu. Now back to the bus and Villefranche.

Everyone seemed to want to go to Monaco on Sunday. The bus that goes to Villefranche also goes to Monaco. There is a long line and I am not able to get on the bus. I didn't have my money ready and I miss the second bus. I've waited now a half-hour for the bus and I'm determined to get on the next bus. It is a mad house. Everyone starts to queue until the bus pulls in and then it is a free-for-all. Everyone is pushing and crowding to get on the bus. I shove my way and push myself onto the bus. My sack is heavy and it is a challenge because I don't want to spill the sauce for the ravioli. I finally make it on the bus but my bread suffered a crushing blow during the maylee.

It is a short ride to Villefranche. The walk up the hill to my apartment doesn't seem to get any easier. I think it is harder today because I'm tired and I'm carrying a heavy sack with the wine. It is overcast and sweat is dripping off me when I finally arrive chez moi.

I spend the rest of the afternoon on the deck lounging and reading the newspaper. A couple of the neighbors in the apartment work in the garden. I hear the clip-clip while they prune the bushes. I nap for a while.

September 18, 2007

Le Troisième Semaine

On Monday the school organized a trip to St Paul de Vence. I was very interested in visiting the village because I didn't get a chance to visit it on my previous trip even though I was nearby in Vence. We met in the morning and traveled by bus. We were delayed for a short bit in Nice because they were filming along the beach. Our first stop was the Fondation Maeght. I love modern art so the museum didn't disappoint me. I really enjoyed the sculpture garden with many statues by Miro, Calder and Giacometti. I also loved the setting which is in a pine forest with the cool grass. After the museum, we walked to the old city and had a couple of hours to tour the shops and have lunch. There are many art galleries in the village. There are also great views over the valley. I enjoyed the village even though it was popular. I can just imagine how crowded it must be on a summer weekend. It wasn't too bad on Monday.

After lunch, we went to Vence to visit the Chapelle du Rosaire. This church was designed by Matisse. It was very interesting and different. The stained glass is beautiful. I really liked the cactus in the windows which represent the difficulties and struggle in life. The simple black and white tiles representing the stations of the cross were also very different. I liked the stark simplicity of the chapel.

After the chapelle, the bus took us up the Loup valley though Tourrettes sur Loup to Gourdon. It is a perched village high (760m) in the foothills. The road was very windy and I felt a bit car sick. But the view! You could see Nice and the sea in the hazy distance. The village is also known for pain d'espice or gingerbread. The ginger helped my car sickness. The village is charming but there are many vendors so it is a little tacky. There is a cool garden around the Chateau but it is not open in October. The trip back wasn't as bad although we got stuck in traffic because of the film again.

Today's forcast was for rain, but it has been very warm and sunny. There was a strong wind along the ocean. You could see the whitecaps but it was not windy at the school or my apartment. The wind cleared the air and it was stunningly clear this evening.

September 21, 2007

In the hot seat

I finished giving my speech (expose). I think I did okay. I took it easy Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for it and make certain that I rested. It worked because I was able to control my nerves on Friday. I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to control my nerves or blank out. I didn't do too well with the questions asked by my class mates. My instructor said I spoke very clear and that she could understand me but that I talked too softly. Yes, big mouth me! But she said she could tell that I still think in English and I translate which means it is often wrong. There are some things that you shouldn't literally translate from French to English. I don't think I'm going to be able to make the jump to thinking in French but at least I have a bit more confidence.

After my speech, I took it easy and treated myself to dinner. It was pretty good although the restaurant I choose still served too much food for me. I had season baked mussels for starter, bouillabaisse soup for entree and a large serving of Profiteroles. The soup was very good but large.

I am so glad that it is over.

September 22, 2007

Biot

I did not realize how close Villefranche was to Menton. Many of the places that are easy to go to are the same ones that we planned on going to on our vacation. So I decided to go to the Var region for a change. We do not have many plans on visiting this region so it would be a good opportunity to visit someplace different.

I did my speech on Seattle and I talked about the Museum of Glass. The village of Biot is similar. It is an artist community with glass blowers and pottery. Perfect.

At first I was going to take the train but it seems to run only once an hour. Plus they are working on the track between Nice and Menton so it would not be running in the afternoon. So I changed my plans from taking the train to taking the bus. I had stopped earlier in the week at the tourist bureau but didn't get much help. I stopped in again and the woman who gave us a tour of the city was working. She was so much more helpful and gave me a bus schedule. You have to take the Cannes bus and then a smaller bus to the village.

It took about 2 hours to get to Biot. It was pretty easy with the schedule. It lists all the stops so you can keep track of where you are and ring your stop. They also have the stops posted in the bus. I got off at the train station and then walked across to get the local bus. I had a pleasant surprise - it was free today.

The village is on a hill and over looks the valley. It is a medieval village that has a few remnants of when the village was a home to Templiars. I walked around the village and stopped in a few of the art shops. The glass blowers are out of town as is a museum that I wanted to see. I happened to get a historical walking map but it was time for lunch. The one restaurant that looked really good was closed on Saturday - Darn. But another restaurant was open in the main plaza so I had a lovely lunch underneath the plane trees - spicy raviolis, dorado with rice and haricot verts and a coupe of sorbets. Yum.

After lunch, I headed off to walk the historical tour. There were several interesting buildings which had walls from the 1600's. A lot of the population left the town in the early 1900's but after the war, it was repopulated. It is not as charming as St Paul de Vence but if you slow down - it will charm you.

Melancholy

It is a melancholy night for me. I've realized this is the last weekend and there are only 5 more days left here in Villefranche sur Mer. I've been so comfortable here. I love the ability to awake with the sun shinning in between the slats of the shutters each morning. Every evening, the lights winkle on the harbor boats and the cars on the Moyenne Corniche. There is just a hint of fall in the air. It is so slight - the sun is rising later, the shadows are longer and it has become cool enough to shut the windows at night. It is still a bit humid but that is probably only because I am at the ocean. The mosquitoes have also become less ferocious. I was being eaten alive earlier in the month. Now there are only a few. I probably should have gone to the pharmacy and practiced my French but I chickened out.

These three weeks have really been a dream come true. I have a small drawing in my kitchen of the view of an azure blue sea from a balcony. I bought it from an artist at the Edmonds Art Fair. For years in the dark grey days of a Seattle winter, I have looked at that picture to brighten my winter. I never realize that some day I would live it. It has been my life for these three weeks.

I still have a few more weeks here in France before I return. My classes will come to an end on Friday. I'll still have another week to explore the region and see it through G's eyes. It will be fun to show him all the places I have found and where I lived. Then on to Provence!

September 23, 2007

At the beach

Another lazy Sunday. I walked up to the bakery and got a couple of croissants for breakfast and a London Times. I love relaxing on Sunday and reading the newspaper while drinking my coffee. Not as much in the news this week about the lost child (Maddy) in Portugal. It was quite the sensation last week. Very gossipy.

I had a request from a person on Trip Advisor to find a house that they had stayed several years ago. I headed out to find it and explore a different area of VF. I found it! I took a couple of pictures. Since I was in the area, I headed for a view point that I had passed on the bus up above Villefranche. Too bad it is an overcast day. But the view was still great with the harbor, ships and town spread out below.

I decided to visit the beach today. I hadn't been swimming in the Mediterranean since we visited Corsica in 1996. The beach at VF is not bad. It is made of small white pebbles - much better than Nice which is made up of large black rocks. Unfortunately, there were warning about the beach being closed because of pollution. I continued on farther away from town and selected an area a bit away. It was great. I went ahead and went for a swim although I suspect it was also polluted in the area. It was cool but felt wonderful. They also have a few showers along the beach so you can wash the salt water off. Maybe I'll go again one of the evenings or in Menton.

Now I'm watching the Australia - Fiji rugby game. The Wallabies are winning and the bar is full of their fans. Lots of cheering! I'm still holding out for the Springboks (South Africa). Lots more to come - the finals are not until later in October.

September 26, 2007

Le Quatrième Semaine

Time is going quickly and it is almost over. I had a couple of lovely dinners recently at Le Serre and the restaurant next door to Le Serre whose name I can not remember. Le Serre is a favorite of the students. You can get a great pizza, nice pasta or a decent entrecôte or veal dish all at reasonable prices.The owner is familiar with the school and will try to make you speaking French although we ended up speaking English. I love how the tables spill out into the alley next to St. Michael's church.

Alley in Villefranche sur Mer

The weather turned cool and stormy on Tuesday. The storm would crawl across the sea and over Cap Ferrat. Dark clouds rumbling on the horizon, wind rattling the windows and splashes of lightening. Later in the day, a beautiful rainbow came out in the golden sunlight.

Rainbow over Villefranche sur Mer

Several of us decided to go out together instead of going to the organized dinner at the restaurant in Rue Obscure. It was cold and we decided to eat at the restaurant next to Le Serre which has some cozy seats inside. We swapped stories and walked together back to up the hill. I later found out more about the dinner at Rue Obscure and it also sounded like fun. A couple of the teachers got out their guitars and sang after dinner. That is what I love about the school.

September 28, 2007

Fini

Graduation


Last night I packed and did some final cleaning around the apartment. That took hardly no time what so ever. I tried to study but I just could not focus. The verbs just blurred. I knew what I needed to work on. My teacher gave us a big hint on what we would be included in the test today. It was very similar to the original test including the part that I just seem to be able to do - creatively describe a family's day based upon a series of drawings. It should be so simple but not for me. I couldn't sleep at all. I tossed and turned. And I probably doomed myself by expecting to fail.

The morning was busy taking the tests. And as expected, it was just like the first day. I was such a ball of nerves by time I was called to do my oral exam, I blanked and just mumbled garbage.

Finally at 4pm, it was graduation time. Names were called and I received my certificate. I had improved my oral skills. Later my teacher gave me an overview of how I did. I improved a little but did not improve my ability to express myself.

But I'm not going to give up. I know what I need to work on. I'll continue to study and I hope to be back. I learned so much and it was a wonderful experience.

September 29, 2007

St Paul de Vence

St Paul de Vence

After graduation, I rolled my suitcase down the hill to catch the bus into Nice. G arrived Friday afternoon and we planned on meeting up at Hotel les Cigales. I stayed there when I arrived. It was nice and a good location. Most everyone else had ordered taxis but I just couldn't justify the 50 euros into Nice. The bus was 1.30 euro and it took me a bit over an hour.

I walked into the room and G had just returned from walking around the old town. He had really enjoyed the piano player in Place Massena - Steve Villa-Massone. He had spent time listening to him play. I remembered seeing him several times as I walked around Nice. Here is a video about him. Maybe you have seen him also?

G was doing well but I thought it would be best to eat early. We headed off to Rue Massena to have pizza at La Pizza. We had eaten there on our previous trip. They serve the pizzas as a half-crescent overflowing the plate. They are cooked in a wood burning stove. Great fast food for about 30 euros with drinks. After we walked to the old town and had an ice cream (of course!)

We both crashed and slept well. At 10am, we headed over to Eurocar to pick up our car. I rented it through AutoEurope. It was supposed to be an economy car but it got upgraded. It was a Fiat. After it was cleaned and we got a short explanation of how things worked, we headed off down the Promenade des Anglais towards the airport. I had visited St Paul on our school trip and I knew which way to go. I was hoping to find a way so I didn't have to go onto the Autoroute like the bus did. We were following the same route as Bus 400 that I took to Biot but when we passed the Hippodrome I knew we must have missed the turn off. We backtracked to Cagnes sur Mer and found the road.

We arrived around 11 so we decided to go into the town first and eat lunch. We explored the shops and climbed the walls. You could see the snow dusted foothills of the Alps fro the storms earlier in the week. We were walking in the cemetery when I got a call on my cell phone. Who could that be? It was Europcar calling. The previous renter was missing his computer and would I check to see if he left it in the car? Hmmm. I doubt since I watched the agent vacuum the car but I would go check. Nothing.

But it was time for lunch. This time I choose to eat at the Restaurant Hostellerie des Remparts. It was very good. I had a white fish in a pesto sauce and G had a Linguini aux fruits de mer. We also had a bottle of Chateau Minuty, a rosé from around St. Tropez. It was to become one of our favorite rosé.

Our next stop was Fondation Maeght. It was as enjoyable as my first visit. I love the Miro statues. There were several musicians throughout the museum playing music from Spanish composers which added to the ambiance. It was getting late and we needed to get to Menton so we headed back to Nice. We drove along the Basse Corniche. I had wanted to drive up by my apartment and show G where I stayed but we were running late. We did stop at the Villefranche sur Mer overview.

Around 5pm, we arrived in Menton, the city of citrus and gardens. The traffic was busy from Monaco on to Menton. We followed the directions to the apartment the owner sent us. It said to go down a street 'where you think you can not be in the right place' until you come to a small arch - Porte St. Julien; our entry from the 21st century to the 17th century. We didn't see anywhere to park so we carefully turned around and went back down about a block. We rolled our luggage up to the slatted door. We turned on the minuterie and climbed the stair. The door opened to a wonderful apartment.

The Vieux Ville area of Menton reminded me a lot of Venice. Menton is a very Italianate town. The Vieux Ville buildings dates from the 14th to 17th centuries. Our apartment is on Rue Longue which is part of the Via Julia, an ancient Roman road between Vintimille and La Turbie. It was originally owned by a member of the Grimaldi family. Menton area was once an independent country before joining France in the 1800's.

We opened the window and discover the most wonderful view of Italy. It would enchant us throughout our stay.

View from our Menton apartment

St Paul de Vence 2

Here are some photos of St Paul de Vence


September 30, 2007

La Fête de Saint-Michel Menton

The day was bright and sunny and the only thing on the agenda was to visit the gardens of Menton. It was Sunday and we didn't feel real energetic. Our apartment had a great information book and it said there was a boulangerie just a short distance away. I headed out. The boulangerie was doing a brisk business and the smells were intoxicating. I purchased four warm fresh croissants. With strong coffee and fresh croissants, we sat at the dining table in the apartment and watched the harbor boats through the window.

The decision was to spend the morning exploring Menton. Down the stairs and out onto Rue Longue. A short distance from our apartment were the ramps leading up to Basilique Saint Michele. We noticed people gathering in Place St.Michel in front of Basilique Saint Michael. I remembered that September 30th was St Michel day. There was a special celebration at St. Michel Church in Villefranche sur Mer. I guessed that there would be a similar celebration for St Michel in Menton. I glanced in the church and Mass was being held. The scent of incense was strong and the church was packed. After Mass, the congregation lingered around the Plaza including several officials.

We heard the sound of flutes and drums and shortly saw several men in stripped Menton fishermen shirts carrying the St. Michele archangel statue down the church steps. The congregation gathered and followed them down Les Rampes Saint Michel towards the La Plage des Sablettes. Local women in Mentonaise dress carrying flower baskets led the procession. The procession walked towards oceanside where the garden show had been held. At the the Esplanade, the local orchestra, La Guard, and several choral groups had gathered. When St. Michele arrived, the orchestra played "New York New York". That was very strange.

We lingered for a while and then headed back to the apartment for a light lunch. I realized that the garden Val Rahmeh was just a short distance from our apartment. I checked the schedule from the brochures in the apartment and thought it opened at 2:30. But I was wrong.When we arrived at the garden, it was closed. I forgoet that it was still September so it would not open until 3:30.

There was a path behind the garden entrance heading up the hill - Escalier Saint Jacques. We climbed the path to the sound of children playing and families gathered for Sunday picnics. At the top was Le Parc du Pian and Boulevard de Garavan. Parc du Pian is an lovely ancient olive grove, terraced above the harbor. We decided to walk along the boulevard to check out the views of the harbor. We noticed beautiful tropical vines and trees growing in the houses and along the sidewalk. Looking closer, we discovered botanical plant names embedded along the sidewalk. We started reading the botanical names and locating the plants. The houses were also beautiful as were the vistas.

I realized that we were not far from Clos du Peyronnet, the garden that I visited on my earlier visit. Along the way, we also met a charming local French woman out for a walk. She had gathered a beautiful bouquet of flowers. We had a nice conversation with her; switching between my limited French and her limited English. She pointed out her apartment and told us a few places to visit in Menton and the area.

It was almost 3:30 so we returned to Val Rahmeh. The garden was originally started in 1905 by Lord Percy Radcliff. It was later acquired by Maybud Campbell who expanded it and passed it on to National Museum of Natural History. The entry is lined with lovely tall Canary Island palms. The terracotta house is now the office and small museum.

The plants are a wild melange of warm weather plants. Lord Radcliff collected plants of the Solanaceae family which includes tomato and Brugmansia. Miss Campbell added lovely waterlily ponds. It is warm enough in Menton for Victoria waterlily to grow outside. We also found many interesting salvias growing. Overall a very nice afternoon.

Here is a slide show of the Saint Michele procession.


October 1, 2007

Monaco - Gardens and Aquarium

Monaco


I was somewhat dreading another trip to Monaco. I had already visited it twice and I didn't find it particularly appealing. From the water, it looked like a crowded jungle of modern high rise apartments and buildings. But G wanted to visit it to see the Jardin Exotique and the Musée Océanographique de Monaco.

We walked over to the Menton bus station just beyond the train station and took a bus 100. The day was sunny and lovely. We got off near the casino and made a quick visit to the Visitors Center for information on the buses. We knew from our guide books that the local Monaco bus would take us up the hill to the Jardin. Conveniently, the stop for route #2 was right outside the visitors center.

Jardin Exotique de Monaco
The bus went up above the malls, past several expensive automobile showroom and ended at the entrance to the garden. We paid our fee and walked over for the stunning views of the city laid out below the garden.

You quickly realize why Monaco is nicknamed the Rock. The garden is built within the rock wall above the city. It faces south and gets full sun - perfect place for cactus and succulents. I would not want to visit the garden in the summer. The heat would be intensive. But on an early October morning, it was quite pleasant.

The paths zig-zag across the rock wall with little nooks of water and balconies overlooking the sea. The cactus are huge. It is interesting to see what does well in the climate and what did not. Many of the North American cactus such as the saguaros did not do well. It makes sense when I remember that Tucson is higher up in altitude and not on the hot desert floor. Many of the African succulents and the South American cactus were doing fine.

Jardin Exotique de Monaco
I did find the garden a bit boring after a while. There wasn't a large diversity of plants. Once you had seen several of the large specimens and admired the view, it was time to go.

We waited a bit and took the bus back. The other end of the line was near the old town and palace so we decided to take all the way. Monaco is not that big so the ride took use 15 minutes at most. But the bus is nice to take since Monaco is not flat.

We walked around the older town. It was extremely clean and rather sterile. We grabbed a sandwich for lunch and ate it in the plaza near the palace. We watched the tourists queue up for the Palace tour and the guards walk between their stations.

After a short rest, we walked over and checked out the Cathedral. It was very nice. All the former kings and royal family are buried near the alter. Of course, I had to see Princess Grace's final resting place.

Just beyond the cathedral was the second main attraction for us, the aquarium. It is an older aquarium but good. Interesting displays of the local fish along with a large aquarium with some sharks and turtles. There was also a nice view from the roof.

We took the local bus back to the Casino. There were some other tourists on the bus who were speaking in English. They raved about how much they enjoyed Monaco and felt it was great compared to Nice. They also thought it was so nice that they had 'free' parking in the city. I tried not to snicker. They thought the parking signs that said Libre meant there was no cost to park instead of meaning places available for parking.

We walked around the park near the casino and we thought about stopping and having a beer. We decided not to because it seemed so touristy. We walked back up and caught the bus 100 to return to Menton. Unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon and school had gotten out in Cap Martin. It took quite a while for the bus to crawl along through the traffic. Once in Menton, we found another grocery store on the way between the bus and the old city. We grabbed some items for dinner and called it a day.

I know that many people do not like Monaco. I don't regret visiting it. I am glad that we finally got a chance to see the Jardin Exotique and the aquarium. Both have been on our list of places to visit for years. But it is not the same as the rest of the coast which I prefer.

Click through for a Flickr slideshow of Monaco

Continue reading "Monaco - Gardens and Aquarium" »

October 3, 2007

Menton

We are still here on the cote d'azur. George arrived safely and we have been on the go since. The apartment is lovely with a hypnotic view of the bay and Italy. It is in the vielle ville and dates back to the 18th century but it has been lovingly restored and modernized.

The end of school was a little disastrous for me. I just couldn't do the oral test. I passed but got really low scores on the ability to express myself. More work for me.

We have visited St Paul which is lovely, Monaco which actually was pretty fun and the hill towns; The roads are one lane with outstanding vistas, but they are not for the faint of heart. I got a chance to revisit some of my favorite places and discover many new.

We will write more when we return or when we find another internet cafe.

October 6, 2007

Hameau Le Parrotier

Hameau Le Parrotier



Menton

Well, it is time to leave Menton and move on to Provence. Our time on the Cote d'Azur has gone so quickly. Our week in Menton has been absolutely lovely – both the wonderful apartment and the charming town. The apartment has been our refuge with its seductive view of the harbor and Italian coastline.

We did our final bit of cleaning and got an early start. We had a long drive through the Var and Haute Provence regions to our next destination - The Luberon. We took the A10 to Nice and to had our first chance to pay a "péage" on a French Autoroute. It was about 3 euros to go from Menton to Nice. We had enough change and just threw it in coin basket.

We turned off a Nice and headed inland. Initially the area was a patchwork of industrial and agricultural lands. As the valley narrowed and climbed, it became more rural. A short detour took us through a narrow canyon before turning east. The towns had a more ancient and undiscovered feel especially in the light of an autumn morning. Entrevaux spilled town the hillside to the river, a lovely medieval bridge guarding the city. We didn’t get a chance to explore it and it remains on my list of a village to visit.

Haute Provence
The air became clear and crisp. It was the first time that I could tell that it was autumn. The hills were dotted with brilliant red from the smoke trees while the plane and ash provided accents of yellow.

After about 2 ½ hours from Nice, we reached Digne les Bains. We stopped for a short while at Les Mées to admire the cliffs and have a small picnic lunch. We were making good time so we decided to stop for a short time in Forcalquier. It was about 1:30 and most of the town was closed or at lunch. It had a sleepy feeling as we roamed the streets, a dramatic change from the hustle and bustle of the Côte. The Côte definitely slowed down during lunch but nothing like this. This will take a bit of adjusting.


Forcalquier


Mairie de Forcalquier

Forcalquier Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption

After a walk through the empty streets, we headed on to Prieuré de Salagon a short way out of Forcalquier in Mane. We arrived just as they opened for the afternoon. It was very interesting. It was not originally on our itinerary but I found in it the Rough Guide. The site consists of the Priory which is from 12th Century and several ethno-botanical gardens. One garden is focuses on plants used in medieval times. Another is a contemporary ethnobotanical garden focusing on plants from the different continents. I saw my first jujube tree. I saw the fruit for sale in L'Isle sur la Sorgue. There are also a fragrance garden.



Prieuré de Salagon

Prieuré de Salagon

Prieuré de Salagon



The shadows were lengthening and it was time to head on. We continued through the sleepy towns of Haute Provence and through lanes lined in plane trees. We arrived at Apt later in the afternoon and made our way to the Hameau Le Parrotier to our next apartment.

It is so lovely – an apartment in a small hamlet or hameau. It has been excellently restored and decorated with modern decor but keeping in a provincial country flavor. Fresh flowers and olive branches decorate the tables. Best of all, is a large basket of wonderful heirloom tomatoes grown by the owner Bruno Adonis and a wire basket of fresh eggs from his own hens. If you read French, here is a bit about Bruno and Katia.

Then it is off to the supermarket in Apt to pick up supplies for the next few days. It is an Auchen supermarket = and very well stocked compared with the markets we found on the Côte. On the drive back to the apartment, the setting sun has turned the countryside gold and we can’t resist exploring. We drive to Joucas and Lioux. The falaise de la Madeleine at Lioux turns golden in the setting sun.

Falaise de la Madeleine at Lioux

Falaise de la Madeleine at Lioux

October 7, 2007

L'Isle sur la Sorgue

L'Isle sur la Sorgue

Breakfast
Groan, we are slow to awake. Our reliable sun has failed us. The countryside around the hameau is shrouded in fog and we decide to stay in bed awhile longer than normal. Our need for coffee finally gets us out of bed. The apartment has a Senseo coffee maker which makes quick strong coffee. A movement in the kitchen window gets our attention and we see the owners dog. And a basket of fresh croissants and brioches. Perfect! A lovely start for our week in Provence. Farm fresh eggs, scrambled with heirloom tomatoes and fresh chevre round out our breakfast. Breakfast

It is almost 10:30 and we head off for L'Isle sur la Sorgue and the famous Sunday Market. The fog lifts as we drive to Isle and it is soon a warm clear blue day. We have heard that you need to arrive early to find parking so we decide to park at the first places we find on the road in. It is not far – another nice feature of traveling in the autumn. The market is made of both antiques and regular market which winds it way around and through the center of the town. Clothing, shoes, olives, spices, cloth, vegetables, bread, linens. It is not as crowded as we expected and after an hour or two we have seen most of the market. We have picked up jam, bread and some awesome basil olives. The linens look lovely but it is time to move on. We had a slice of pizza for lunch and relaxed with a Heineken before we move on.

L'Isle sur la Sorgue

L'Isle sur la Sorgue

L'Isle sur la Sorgue

We head back and decide to drive along the road to Gordes. The vista outside the city is awesome. Not far away was Abbaye de Senanque. It is a lovely setting. Unfortunately for us, the lavender plants surrounding the front of the abbey are being replaced and the surrounding garden is dug up.

We decide to visit the Lavender museum. It is very interesting. I didn't realize the difference between true Lavender and the more common garden lavender or lavandin but scent is definitely more pleasant. Of course, there is a boutique with many lavender products but it is very nicely presented. My muscles have been aching so G suggests that I pick up some muscle gel. It sounds like a good idea especially since G said he would give me a massage.

October 8, 2007

Hiking the Falaise at Lioux

Looking back at the falaise

Every morning it seems more and more difficult to get up. We want to get into a rhythm but it is so hard. The sun does not rise until about 8am. The bed is soft and warm. We linger at breakfast and ent the end, we don’t leave until after 10am. By time we do a bit of shopping at the supermarche, it is noon. Now everything is closed in the small villages. It is too early for us for lunch. Plus we are not used to eating lunch. Our normal routine at home is to eat a large breakfast/brunch and then an early dinner. France doesn’t fit our routine.

Our first stop is Pont Julian on our way to Bonnieux. The bridge is part of the old Via Domitia and was constructed in the 2nd or 3rd century. G finds the ancient Roman bridge fascinating and we spend time exploring. From below we gaze at the intricate stone work and find it amazing modern day traffic until recently.

We move on to Bonnieux which is very sleepy. It is lunch at Monday and most everything except one or two shops are closed. We park along the road and walk the empty street up to church at the top of the town. The light wind blows through the trees as we admire the vista before returning to our car.

We drive on towards Lacoste stopping to rest and view Bonnieux across the vineyards. We head back to the apartment to prepare for a late afternoon hike up along the top of the cliff (falaise) at Lioux which Kaydee on Slow Travel recommended. I wanted to do our hike to the Falaise in the late afternoon to try to capture some of the wonderful golden light but today is overcast. Oh well, it is still good to get out into the countryside.

We arrive in Lioux and park at the main square. It is barely a village. The mairie and church border the main square which is lined by plane trees. We walk a bit on the main road and then take a dirt road on the right leading up towards the base of the cliff. The trail skirts under the stony cliff until a small orchard. A sign points us to the left and the trail swings wide away from the cliff towards a couple of farm houses. The path slowly gains while swinging wide among the farm houses. We are greeted by barks as we pass one or two of the farms. The trail turns back towards the town. Suddenly we realize that we are actually on the top as we walk among the low oak, cistus, thyme and other pungent provincial plants. G identifies more – sage, horehound, rosemary and thyme. Off to the side, the ground gradually drops off until we are up above the town, The drop is now dangerous as we gaze down towards the square. The wind whips through our hair as the gray sun shines through the slivers of clouds. We can see our route down in the distance.

We continue on until a junction and a trail sign signifying an old mill. We proceed back towards our car while passing a peaceful cemetery under the watchful eyes of the stony cliff.

Follow the link below for a slideshow of the hike.


Continue reading "Hiking the Falaise at Lioux" »

Photos of Bonnieux

Bonnieux

Here are a few photos of Bonnieux France. Follow the link below for the slideshow.

Continue reading "Photos of Bonnieux " »

October 9, 2007

Roman Ruins

Gigondas

There are many Roman ruins in the area. The arena in Arles, the bridge near Nimes and the theater in Orange. We decided to visit Orange since it would give us the opportunity to also visit the Rhone area. I love Rhone wines. We might even be able to see the Pays de Ventoux area.

It is another late start to the day. I think the driving bothers my hips. I am sore and I slept poorly. I also have a cold since we left Menton and has now G caught it.

We head out towards Murs. The forest is low shrub oak. It looks so similar to the oak forest around Radda in Chianti Italy. The road narrows and winds over a pass. It feels remote and isolated. After crossing the pass, we drop down and pass the small village of Venasque. My good friend R rented an house in Venasque in July and it looks charming. We continue on and soon we are in the busy industrial Rhone area of Carpentras. The terrain has flattened. Outside of the city, the countryside is mostly acres of vineyards.

We reach Orange around noon. Parking is very easy although we struggled for awhile to figure out the machine in the lot. I thought I had to put in my license number but it turns out all I needed to do is feed some coins. The sun is stark and bright but the wind is blowing hard. I wonder if this is a mistral since it is coming from the north.

The Theater is amazing especially the fact that it has lasted 2000 years and avoided destruction by the many changing hordes and rules. We are a bit disappointed by the stark white screen that is in the middle of the ancient stage ruining the full impact of the theater. They have setup the screen to show the Rugby world cup and they have left it on the stage until the final game which is still several weeks away. It makes it very difficult to image what it was like in the Roman days.

We originally were going to go to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area but we are running late. It is already after noon so we pickup a couple of sandwiches at the boulangerie across from the theater and head for the Côtes du Rhône area instead. Rhone is my favorite red and I wanted to see the small villages that make up the Côtes du Rhône village appellation. I wanted to see the region with the villages that I had only seen on a wine label; Cairanne, Rasteau, Sablet. I don’t know what I expected but it seemed to be different. The valley was covered with wines and you could see the church steeple of each of the villages in the distance. I knew nothing of the different villages and we pulled off near Séguret to eat our sandwiches. We decide to explore the town. What a fortunate decision. It has become one of my favorite villages. We stroll the charming streets and are enchanted by its location overlooking the vineyards.

On to Gigondas where we stop for a tasting at the La Cave de Gigondas. It is a local cooperative. The wines are wonderful and we purchase an bottle of old vines from 1999. We also like the bottled while you wait - 'wine in a box' you can get from the wine fountain at the Cave. We head back towards the Dentalles and Suzette. Unfortunately, the glare from the late afternoon sun ruin the view of the peaks. We retrace our way back to Carpenteras and end up in the 5pm after school traffic jam. It is interesting to see the mothers rushing around after work to pick up their kids.

Continue reading "Roman Ruins" »

Séguret

Séguret is one of our favorite villages in Southern France. Here are some photos of the village and surrounding area.


January 8, 2008

Continuing to study French

I signed up for Intermediate French at the local Alliance Francaise. The classes start on Thursday. I hope I'm not getting over my head by signing up for Intermediate. I haven't been practicing or listening to French since October. I was really torn deciding which class to sign up for. I suspect it might have been better to take an advanced beginning class but I really didn't want to take a placement test. I also didn't want to take classes that start at 7pm. I work from 7am-5pm (10 hour days) and I didn't want to stick around until 7 for class. I might have to take the later classes next quarter if I survive Intermediate 1. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Here are some good sites to use to study and practice French

First Year French at University of Texas Austin

Ma France at BBC
French Steps - Another BBC Language Series
Language Guide - Good place for pronunciations. I found it useful to hear the vowels.

There are also several good podcasts - both classes and current events
The French Podcast
Le Journal - French News from WNYE
One thing in a French Day
Daily French Pod
Podcast Francais Facile

Do you have a site you recommend for learning French?

January 17, 2008

Over my head

But I found a life ring.

I started French last week. It turns out that there were not enough students who signed up for Beginning Intermediate so they decided to combine first and second level Intermediate. Ack! Everyone had been taking the class together and they were way beyond me. We had a test the first day and I knew very little. And my speaking fluency was just not up to the same level as the rest of the student.

I originally signed up for first level Intermediate because of the time of day. I typically work a 10 hour day (4 days a week). I didn't really want to wait around for a class at 7pm. It is also too far for me to go home and go back. First level Intermediate was at 5:30pm which was good for me. But Second level was at 7pm. That makes for a long day.

Unfortunately, all the class options at 5:30 were early beginners. What to do?

The advance beginners was also at 7pm on Tuesday. And the instructor was the same one that I had in the summer and I liked her a lot. So my life ring is to move to Advanced Beginners. It turns out that they were actually studying at the beginning Intermediate and it is great. It feels a lot like the level of my class in France. But they are covering some grammar that is new to me. I'm still having problems expressing myself. I just can't come up with anything but very simple sentences. But I will still have chance to study, listen and practice French. So for now, class is good.

February 3, 2008

Hanbury Garden

Hanbury Gardens - Italy


Here is a reflective shot of the house at Hanbury Gardens in Italy.

February 6, 2008

Hanbury Garden 2

I thought I would talk a bit more about Hanbury Garden or Giardini Botanici Hanbury as it is known in Italian. This lovely garden is located just over the Italian border from Menton. You can walk along the Ligurian trail to it if you had enough energy. But we choose to drive when we visited it in October.

It is located outside of Ventimiglia in a hamlet called La Mortola. It was originally created by Sir Thomas Hanbury in 1867. Today the 18 hectares are maintained by the University of Genoa.

He encouraged plant hunters to send him exotic specimens that they collected. The warm microclimate in this section of the Riviera allowed the plants to naturalize and grow. There are extensive collections of succulents, cycads, and other semi-tropical plants mixed with bubbling fountains, terraces and winding stairs giving way to sea vistas. Also on the property is a lovely villa which unfortunately is not open to the public. But you can stroll along the logia and dream of what it might have been to live in this garden.

Giardini Botanici Hanbury from Wikipedia


Villa at Hanbury Garden Italy

Loggia at Hanbury

February 8, 2008

Menton

Menton

I just finished my review for our apartment in Menton. I had several questions on Slow Talk about the apartment and how I liked it. We loved it. We also loved Menton. It has a very unique micro-climate that is almost semi-tropical. We were attracted to the gardens in the area. Many are from the early 1900's and in semi-states of repair. They are very moody and different from the neat and tidy gardens of the UK. The Fête du Citron is coming up soon. I think it would be very cool to be able to be in Menton during the festival.

There is also a wonderful daily photo blog of Menton. Jilly does a great job capturing the wonder of the city. Currently she is doing a series of photos on Roquebrune a small village near Menton.

Previously she did a series of shots of Rue Longue - the street in the vielle ville where our apartment was located. The series brought back a lot of memories of our week in Menton.

February 9, 2008

Vacation Pictures

I finally got a chance today to work on my website and post some more pictures from France. it has been almost 4 months but it seems like ages. It took me a while to get this set done but the shots of the alleys and building of Villefranche sur Mer brought back a lot of memories.

Here's my latest set - Villefranche Sur Mer

February 15, 2008

French Music

Street Musicians in Menton
Street Musicians in Menton

Chris from Slow Travel is counting the days before she leaves for France. She is spending three weeks in Paris. I am green with envy - Spring in Paris. She has been getting great ideas on what to do for three weeks in Paris. I'm going to have to add this to the list of my dream trips.

She has been working on a soundtrack for her trip. I might be able to help her a bit with the my playlist for France. (All the songs are available on I-Tunes)

Le Festin - Camille (from Ratatouille)
Le chant des coquelicots - Amélie-les-crayons
Les yeux ouverts - Enzo Enzo
Que n'ai je - Keren Ann
Desert - Émilie Simon (Thievery Corporation Remix)
1, 2, 3 - Camille
Quelqu'un m'a dit - Carla Bruni (Mrs Sarkozy!)
Jardin d'hiver - Keren Ann
J'ai deux amours - Madeleine Peyroux
Le vie en rose - Edith Piaf
Ne me quitte pas - Belinda Carlisle
Grand hotel - Francoise Hardy
Au port - Camille
Jazz music - De-Phazz
Attraction - Paris Combo
Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre) - Gotan Project
Je l'aime Je l'aime - Vaya Con Dios
Sympathique - Pink Martini
Samba de mon coeur qui bat - Coralie Clement
I melt with you - Nouvelle Vague
1234 - Feist
Dance me to the end of love - Madeleine Peyroux
Fleur de saison - Émilie Simon


March 12, 2008

Vacation post - Monaco

I had a chance to finish a post that I've been working on for a while on our visit to Monaco back in October. We didn't go to gamble or be seen. We went for two outstanding natural history attractions; the Jardin Exotique and the Musée Océanographique de Monaco. I posted a few pictures of the garden and the city. Take a look!

Monaco - Gardens and Aquarium

March 13, 2008

Monaco Aquarium

I uploaded my first video to YouTube. My Canon sd800 camera has a video mode. I took a few little video segments at the Monaco Aquarium and put them together with Audacity.

August 20, 2008

Schmap Guides

I recently got an email from Schmap Guides asking if they could include one of my photos from Nice that I posted on Flickr. Cool! I checked out the site and it looked very nice. I retain rights to my photo so it was a respectful usage of my photo. I agreed and it was included.

I did some investigation of the web site and application. It is a map based city guide that takes content from W Guide and photos from Flickr and puts them all together on a map. It actually looks pretty useful for travelers especially the new option for downloading the guide to an iPhone or iPodTouch.

You can view the guide on-line or download a PC or MAC application to view it on your PC and make modifications. It also looks like you can customize and create your own. You can also get widgets.

Anyway - here is link to my photo on Schmap and the widget below which circle through the museums and includes my photo.

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