Monday, October 31, 2016

Return of the Warrior or Trial by Train

We decided to go to the city of Antibes, south of Nice, another coastal town with supposedly a nice old town. I will be posting our story of our visit there and our pictures on my next post. But today we will take about how an old warrior returns to the battlefield and takes on challenges that appear will totally defeat him, only to rise up victorious!

The day started out innocently enough. Took the train down, had a little trouble buying our ticket because the ticket office was closed and we needed to use a machine. SCNF ((Société nationale des chemins de fer français), the national railway system, uses machines that are somewhat difficult to understand. But that was minor. We had got parking at the station and were in Antibes before you knew it.

After our long day there, we were ready to head back, so I said to Wife that we could catch a slightly earlier train. In fact I caught the wrong train which took me only to Nice directly. But no problem we'd wait for the local to show up and finish up on the right train. This is when things began to get squirrelly. On all the screens in the terminal, no track numbers were being listed for any of the trains. 

We're assuming it will be on the same track but that track is filled with trains that are just sitting there. I run around the station trying to figure out what's going on. I notice that a train arrives on another track going in the direction we want and let's off a bunch of passengers. Wife and I dash over to it (involving going down, underneath, and up). I look into the train and on its electronic displays, our station is announced. BUT, we are told by passengers getting of that everyone was told to get oof the train and no one working for the train could tell them why.

I'm smelling a rat, a juvenile, equine magical rat. I smelling the Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel. Long time readers know I was the road warrior. And I had fought many a battle with the young horned horse demi-god. But that was a long time ago. I've retired. But things were spiraling from bad to worse. We tried to get information on when the next train would finally be going. The line at information was too long. We went to the toilet and when we got back we found the line short enough that we could ask our question. 

"Ha, Ha, No you are not going to your destination today. Someone attached a conductor on one of the trains at your station and now the train workers are refusing to take trains there. There will be no trains going their the rest of today. You need to catch a bus. Go across the street."

This we do. We wait in another line. Here they tell us, "Just go to the port and catch the bus 100." But how to get to the port? We go to tourist information. They give us a map and bus schedule. There is one bus that leaves in 35 minutes. The next one not for another two hours. We have to take the tram. We risk not having tickets for the tram because it is at the station waiting. Will we banned from another country for tram violations? No, we are successful.

We hustle our batoogies down to the port. But where in the port is the bus stop. Ah we find it fairly easily. But the line of people is humongous because of all the people who can't get where they are going by the train. And this is a local bus that will take hours to get to Menton AND THEN we still will be miles from where our car is parked. I can here the Unicorn God of Travel's laughter. 

But I have put back on the armor. I have resharpened my blade. I am ready. I check my Uber App. I find a trip between cities is not that terribly costly. I put in my request. The driver will be there in 5 minutes. We are on the road to Menton while the bus is still trying to get everyone on. The Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel neighs horribly. We are back at our car in 50 minutes and in our house on the hill 15 minutes after that. 

We are victorious. We would still be traveling now as I write this if we had not made the Uber decision.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sigh...Pasta :)

It's a lazy Sunday here in Eldership station Frantaly. There's too many people out and about to do too much. We have a big day planned for tomorrow.

It's in the mid-70's (23 for you Celsius folks) and it's a nice day to just put on the shorts and read a book. I mean it is almost November.
 Suppose I should be sociable and invite the local billionaires up for a drink
We did get up enough energy to go into town for lunch. 
Thank goodness I made a reservation for this pasta specialty restaurant the guy renting us our house told us about.

I have become a real fan of the salads we've been getting in Italy. They always have lots of stuff and good quality too. This one had lettuce, tomatoes, corn, tuna and a hard boiled egg. Simply dressed with good olive oil and some vinegar, salt and pepper



I have waxed rhapsodic about the joys of good Italian Pasta in past years.
How do they do it?
I don't know.
It is magic.
Somehow you take a first bite and you say, "Hm okay, nothing great."
Then you take a second and third bite and say, "Hm sort of growing on me."
By the 10th bite and beyond you're saying, "How can the flavor just be getting better and better? This is crazy."
 
All this restaurant does is salads and pasta. They have a number of pastas and a number of sauces and you pick and chose.
 
I went for a tagliatelle with mushrooms and foie gras.

Wife went for the Lobster Pasta with Taglialini
Unlike many places where we've had the lobster pasta, they took the meat out of the shell for you.
Very classy.

They gave us a glass of house made limoncello on the house.

Sooooo good

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cervo - Because Occasionally A Day Without Trials Is Good

Completely by chance we managed to select a destination today that was just about completely lacking in driving challenge. Thank goodness. I do like the fact that when we are traveling that you are forced to stay alert and think, and make decisions...all kinds of things that exercise your critical faculties that (in my opinion) start to get eroded with age. HOWEVER, there is too much of a good thing. And, as I will relate later when we sum up the learning we have done this trip, the driving challenges of this trip have exceeded what we are feeling comfortable with.

So we were very happy travelers when we discovered (at the end of our driving there) how relatively easy it was for us to get to Cervo at San Bartolomeo al Mare. There was a bit of confusion when we were researching going to Cervo if it was a separate town from San Bartolomeo or not (it is). Fortunately our GPS had Cervo in it and as I've noted the drive was about as easy as any we've done. For one thing the autostrada going from the French border east (at least as far as we have gone) is much straighter and less hilly than the autoroute going from the border west into France. I think this may be because the terrain drops sharply from the border down toward  Nice so you are descending a huge slope.  The autostrada itself is an amazing feat of engineering with a combination of huge viaducts over incredibly deep valleys and long straight tunnels accounting for the relatively straight easy drive. Even descending into San Bartolomeo al Mare/Cervo was much easier than other exits we've taken so far.

Cervo is another hill town though this time it is on the coast. It is of the same time period. I should have done some history reading but clearly the 16th through the 18th century was a good time for this region under the rule of Savoy and Monaco. As I've talked about these towns as living communities, I will refrain from repeating but I think when you look at the pictures you will see that is clearly the case.

Le Fotografie

We get ready to go watching the sunrise with morning coffee
Well according this map we are 'here'
Which is here
Which means to get here
We need to climb here

Our first stop is
Where we had a chance to enjoy a real Mediterranean moment
video

And sitting down and having a coffee while we take in the gorgeous view
video

If you don't like coffee, you can enjoy a self-made lemonade where they give you lemon juice, water, and sugar. You will note that glass in front of Wife is pure lemon juice! Took about 10 packs of sugar to make it palatable :(
The architecture around the Piazza was very interesting


Okay history buffs and loyal readers, remember what I told you about this area having its heyday in the 16th through 18th century? This church was build between 1688 and 1728. 

On the facade were two statues, one very much in the church style, but one looking like it was Greek classic from the Renaissance. Very interesting for a church.

Our usual mountain town tableau of narrow streets, vistas, and colors









A comment on marriage 
How I see myself
How Wife sees me
 
La Gastronomia!
Before we went on this trip I bought the Michelin Guide app for a crazy amount of money and up to now haven't found anything that was close to where we were.
Finally I found this place in Cervo where we had a really nice meal with house wines that were far above normal.

I don't have a picture of wife's veal escalope but she was very pleased with it (wouldn't upload for some reason)
I had the prix fixe menu with a first course of a local pasta called trouflie - sort of a short, twisted pasta with pesto.
The pesto was the lightest version of pesto I've ever had
Followed by a second course of a Brandade of Baccala, a very classic potato and salt cod combination. This one had a ring of anchovy paste and some excellent olive oil that were the flavoring components to the Brandade

Friday, October 28, 2016

Up Into The Mountains or Trial By Y Turn On Single Lane Mountain Road

Ah yes, another day, another driving challenge. There is a lot Wife and I are growing to like about the Mediterranean coast as a place to come to which I will write about in more depth at a later date. However, what we are NOT growing to like is dealing with the ever present challenges of negotiating the driving and parking in this extremely mountainous part of the Med. Actually if you look at a contour map of the Med you will see that there the vast majority of the Mediterranean coast is fairly mountainous (with the exception of Libya and Egypt which are not high on our list of places we want to hang out in long-term).

Today we decided to try to go inland. There are all kinds of mountain towns in the areas inland of us...mainly because there are all kinds of mountains inland of us. Our research identified the French village of Saorge as one of the '40 prettiest villages of France'. As a bonus on our way back we stopped at another village, Briel sur Roya.

The actual drive to Saorge was not all that bad. It mostly followed the valley of the Roya river up from Ventimiglia. It was only the last couple of kilometers that went up the winding one lane (But Two Way Traffic!) road until you got to an place you could go no further. You had to park on the road (much as we did in Bussana Vecchia) and if you were smart you did the turning around to go downhill when you arrived so you were pointing downhill on the way out. I should note that this requires that you do a Y turn with exceedingly little space to maneuver and then parallel park with your standard transmission car going in reverse uphill.

I would like to take a brief interlude here to talk about 'old towns'. I'm sure you've noticed that we have been visiting a lot of 'old towns'. It took us a little while to realize this but in this part of the world there are a heck of a lot of people, I mean a heck of a lot, who live in 'old towns. These are usually not like St-Paul-de-Vence that have been made attractions unto themselves. These are just places where people live. As we've gone up and down these narrow streets and watched life, I've wondered, how do people get furniture in and out of them? Where do they park? How do they shop? What is the lifestyle like? It has to be very different from what is true for a lot of the rest of France and Italy. Both of the towns visited today are like that. They're living towns that get some tourism but tourism is not there reason for being.

So on to...

...Les Photos

Taking pictures in these old hill towns is a real challenge. The high narrow walls combined with the bright sunny skies mean you have this juxtaposition of deep shadow and bright areas that are murder to get exposed right. In the old days when I only took pictures with my cell phone, I generally didn't give a rip. But NOW that I am following the way of the Photo Yoda (Wife), I have learned to pay much more attention to these things.

On the way, there were some neat rock formations but the light was tough and only a few pictures were salvageable 



After our experience getting to the town and getting parked we were ready to go to this town which touts itself as being 'Between Sky and Land'
Also evidently 'Cherry Season'?
The view of the town as you look across from where we parked

We entered through one of the old town wall gates

There is a lot of climbing wandering through this town. 
It is noted because of the multiple levels and the way their are bridges across that will give access to an upper floor of a building from a road higher than the one the building is built on.


As with all these old towns we've visited there are the narrow streets, color, and combination of old and new.



 
And this town is definitely 'vertical' 
Here we are looking down at the town from one of its highest levels



Yes we are up in mountain territory

There were not a lot of lunch options in Saorge so we decided to head back and stop at the small town of Briel-sur-Roya for lunch (no food post - lunch was okay but nothing worth writing about)
After lunch we decided to walk around and were totally surprised to find ourselves in another old town because there is nothing written about this in any of the things we've researched about the area. 

But like so many of the towns there are interesting buildings and colors in small plazas and narrow streets. It's just however a place where people live.



And there was this nice shot across the Roya River to the new part of town