Cinisi, Sicilia, Italia

I booked two nights in the mostly-forgettable-for-me town of Cinisi, to ease into the Italian ways and prepare myself to join an 11-day Rick Steves tour of Sicily. I’m not now able to remember exactly why I chose to take another RS tour (this will be my fifth). For those who like joining tours, I can highly recommend the company; my intro to continental Europe was a wonderful 21-day Best of Europe Tour back in 1993: Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France – it was a terrific way to become comfortable with Europe. But I don’t need a tour guide anymore, so I’m flummoxed as to why I did this. Was it all the great history lessons? Not having to search for and book hotels? The reality of dealing with mysterious Italian ways? Whatever, I meet up with the group tomorrow; I’m trying to prepare myself for the thunderous sound a group of Americans makes in a foreign country. Remember that I relish quietude, and wish me luck.

This morning I set off for a walk to the sea. Found it, and did not need to linger. Got very lost, then risked my life getting back to the B&B in a land of speeding, honking drivers on pedestrian unfriendly roads.

I could not find one open restaurant in this town, so I entered a tiny store and bought picnic supplies, including cheese from the owner’s farm (I was incapable of declining a sample and a purchase) and small batch Sicilian wine in a plastic, screwtop bottle; the entire kit and kaboodle cost about $6.

The vending machine photo, alas, does not reveal the top row: condoms, discreetly available in this very Catholic country.

The sign on the yellow building translates literally to “well confiscated from the Mafia”, reminding me exactly where I am.

The photo of the mural of the crying religious person was discovered inside a trashed old church; he may be weeping at the appearance of the mold.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

And now let’s fly

This morning, in Antibes, I was startled by a loud burst of jet blast and looked up to see colored streaks of the French flag spread across the sky. By the time I got the camera out, the smoked had smudged, but still it was cool to see. It’s funny that I find French displays of nationalism charming, because in general I find nationalism the opposite – but rhyming! – alarming.

As I waited in Nice for the flight to Palerme/Palermo, things didn’t look good. For one, there was no plane at the gate, never good sign. Also, there was only one airline employee behind the counter; how would she process all the passengers by herself? I was sure that at any second we would learn that the flight was late or cancelled. But no, a plane did roll up eventually, and even though the solitary attendant had to check both boarding passes and ID at the gate, things were done quickly and efficiently; we were on the tarmac fast as heck. The flight attendants had to give the safety instructions three times, once in Italian, then in French, then English – ending with, “And now let’s fly!” – but we were up in the air quickly and landed 25 minutes early. And, FYI, at a quarter of the price and oodles more efficiently than my regional airline.

Anyway, now it is time to switch up my brain: time for Italian! Au revoir, ma belle France, à bientôt. Ciao, Italia!

 

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Cap Ferrat

Ooh la la. Here on my last full day in France I have found the Riviera of my imagination. Warm, beautiful, uncrowded, undeveloped . . . I had one of my best travel days ever.

I think Cap Ferrat is where one percent of the one percent of the one percent live. It’s where I’d live too, if I could. I walked it for over eight hours today, mainly exploring its coastal path. As it happens, a previous Bestest Travel Day Ever was also walking along a coastal path of the Mediterranean, on the car-less Greek island of Hydra (a pattern is forming . . . ).

Speaking of the one percent gang, I came upon a scene on Cap Ferrat: a man and a woman were checking out a shiny black Tesla Model X, wing doors up, surrounded by about eight (I say ‘about’ because the menacing guy staring me down effectively caused me to avert my gaze – wow, what a skill), tough bodyguard types, assuming the protective position around the car and couple, eyes hidden behind impenetrable wraparound sunglasses.

I can’t imagine having to require bodyguards.

I also came upon chez David Niven, just as a painting was being delivered. So cool! And I got to see sailing school; the whooping sounds of the kids on the boats was laugh-inducing.

After walking the perimeter of the entire cape – no small feat – I visited the villa of Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild. It is perched at the high point the peninsula, offering 360 degree views of the Côte d’Azure, the Mediterranean, and the mountains. Wow, nice planning, lady.

Here are some photos:

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Soft Day in Antibes

Took a walk through the harbor and along the coast beside the star-shaped fort. Had a good vegan lunch at a tiny and inspiring café. Did laundry. Made train reservations. Checked in to upcoming flight. Sat on le petit balcon and read The New Yorker online. Made pasta with roasted vegetables. Drank wine.

The weather is gorgeous. An autumn day in the south of France.

Yup.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Picasso and Cap d’Antibes

The air was sharp and clear this morning, with none of haze that has lately obscured the coastline and mountains, so I could see all the way to Monaco, and maybe Italy. Sweet!

My first adventure of the day was exploring the Picasso Museum, where he lived for a short time and produced lots of joyful postwar art. Along with some of his spectacular pieces, there was also an expansive display of black and white photographs of the artist at work and with family. So cool! (My favorite work of his on display is the black and white triptych.)

Afterwards, I had a good vegan lunch at a café owned by a British expat. She and another Brit discussed their revved up efforts to become French citizens, like, soon, due to Brexit.

Next I hiked for about five hours to and around Cap d’Antibes. It was warm and lovely and the air was saturated with delightful floral scents. This is where the one percent of the one percent live. There are places for sale if anyone’s interested.

At one area along the narrow coastal trail, I was having the edge-issues thing, and two French couples came up behind me. I merely wanted to step aside so that they could pass and I could make my way gingerly, so I said out loud ‘j’ai peur’ (‘I’m afraid’), and goodness if one of the women did not just grab my hand and then clasp my arm tightly under hers and lead me through a gnarly area. It was so awesome!! So kind of her. There are wonderful people everywhere.

Here are some photos.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Not Mon’-a-coh, Mō-na-cō’

Today I learned that it’s best not to form an idea about a place from a James Bond movie. My vision of this principality was shattered by reality, and, say I come into a zillion bucks, hanging out here will not be on the to-do list. But I’m very glad I came.

For one thing, it will increase the number of my visited countries by one, and yes, I’m counting (now at 25; if this trip continues as planned, I’ll be at 27 – only 170-ish to go!). Two, I believe it’s healthy for me to shatter my notions.

Here I saw mega yachts, helicopters, Maseratis and Bentleys, sparkly clothes and jewelry, and lots of really, really thin women. And the fanciest train station yet.

Also, I found a better use (than killing people) for cannon balls, and a solution for those who hate to parallel park.

Here are some photos.

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Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Côte d’Azur, Antibes

I’m staying in a tiny Airbnb apartment with an appropriate tiny balcony. (This is a good exercise in living small.) It’s in a funky old and dark building up four flights of stairs, and another ladder to the sleeping loft, so I’m doing some serious calorie burning. It’s very quiet, which is so nice.

I took off this morning around 8:30 and the town was deserted, perhaps because people were sleeping off last night’s revelries? Of the countless boats in the harbor, I came across only one awake human being. We made eye contact, so I naturally said bonjour, but he might have been too rich to respond – he just turned away from me. There is so much wealth here!

Later I wandered the town and the market, and had lunch at a too-expensive vegan restaurant run by an American expat. She says it’s hard to live, hard to get things done, in France.

Here are some photos. There will probably be more later; I just want to take advantage of up and running internet now.

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Bardo Day

Today was a day of travel and learning. This is my 8th trip to Europe, yet I am being constantly humbled by daily activities; let’s call a spade a spade: I am European appliances challenged. Although frustrating, there is an upside. Back track: one semester while I was teaching a writing class, a friend was trying to teach me to knit, and I was a total klutz at it. (My ego would like me to mention that I’m a pretty good crocheter.) Being an unsuccessful learner helped me improve my teaching skills dramatically. This unknowing how to open doors and operate washing machines, etc., is similarly teaching me patience and compassion, or as my beloved professor Dr. Doudna would say, “building character.”

Anyway, this morning at the Arles train station, I saw something that kind of explains why I am frustrated with the place I live and why I love what I fancy as the ‘European mind.’ The first photo below was taken at the Arles train station. I think it’s an awesome mural. The problem is that I would never ever ever see anything remotely like that plastered in a public place on Hawaii Island. It would not be ‘allowed.’ This is a problem for me. Not sure how to solve it.

The Marseilles train station was a study in humanity! I bet every type of human was present today – it was awesome. Diversity is something to be celebrated!

Also, FYI, Marseille is a two-cheek-kiss location.

Antibes does not fit the way I imagined it would be. I have six days here. Time for discovery.

Here are some photos, including one from the balcony of the Antibes rental.

P.S. Bardo is a state of in between.

Provence in an un-Provence manner

I had a big moment this morning. A big, awesome, golden, happy moment. The downside is that it really was just a moment. Since I am relying on public transport, remote areas are difficult to get to. High on my bucket list this trip was to visit Pont du Gard, and I did that today, and it was fantastic, but it was a ridiculously short stop on a rushed group tour of Provence. I could have spent 8 hours here; we were here for 40 minutes. Forty minutes allotted for this spectacular place! It’s hard to believe. Whatever, I have added a long visit to the area to my list of things to do on my next France visit, along with some up-close time with flamingoes in the Camargue wetlands.

Of the eight people on the the minibus, about half were French speakers, so the guide explained everything in both French and English, which was fabulous for this aspiring French speaker. My abilities and confidence to converse in French are improving daily. Oui, je reviens en France.

The rest of the day was spent visiting some of the official Most Beautiful Villages of France, Roman ruins, a lavender (or as the guide says, lavenger) farm, and the Ochre Trail. I made sure to include a tasty glass of rosé, a specialty of the region.

Some more interesting things the guide said:

Paris is not France.

The weather has been so hot and dry that the vineyards (or as he says, weenyerds) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape were permitted to be irrigated (this is normally against the law of wine-making).

Monaco is merely a fiscal paradise and soccer team of France.

There are many differnecy between the towns.

To Antibes tomorrow!

Note to self: maybe three double espresso not such a good idea.

And some photos: