Either way, you better love the journey, for you may never reach the end of the road.

Fork in the road, flip a coin; which way to go? Heads it’s alone, tails will take you back home. Either way, you better love the journey, for you may never reach the end of the road. Except in this case, coming face to face with a huge tour bus on a one lane mountain road around a blind curve, will definitely leave one delighted we paid our respects to Mary Magdalene.

In our case, all roads have, in fact, lead to Cannes. And let me get this square right now. The correct pronunciation of this place is “Can.” As in: The little train that could: “I think I can, I think I can.” So many Americans I know insist on saying Con. Like: “Life is nothing but a big con.” Trouble is, Caen, pronounced more like Con is in Normandy, near the Normandy Beaches; whereas Cannes, pronounced Can, is on the French Riviera, on the southern and eastern edge of Provence.

Okay with that out of the way, I am delighted to report that I am drafting this blog on the terrace of my hotel “Splendid” overlooking the Yacht Harbor of Cannes. Just below us, covered with green artificial turf is Le Café New York, New York. In the distance, to my twelve o’clock, an enormous cruise ship at anchor. In the near distance is a forest of masts, of sail boats of all sizes and descriptions. To my three o’clock is the old fortress city of Cannes. That will be one of our hiking destinations for the day, that along with the Fetival des Jardins installation, as with our discovery in Grasse. The morning air is crisp, but gently so, and the sun is warm, so that staying outside with our cups of coffee noir and cappuccino, it is as if we are sitting in a perfectly air conditioned room.

Last night we had an adventure typical of our host. Hugues arranged for his companions and friends to meet him at the Carlton Hotel for drinks, and then we strolled, hiked, really across town, to a terrific restaurant that was happy to accommodate a horde of hungry travelers. There were a baker’s dozen of us to accommodate, and the restaurant did so seamlessly. And as one would expect from Hugues’ friends, everyone is a delight. We enjoyed so very much our dinner conversations as everyone was so helpful with our pronunciations and patient with our story telling. One thing, though, being from the United States, and Texas in particular, driving long distances is “nothing to us.” Driving from Milano to Arles raised a lot of eyebrows. “Yes, yes, we know we are crazy. But it is closer than driving from Dallas to Big Bend.”

Our final stop before arriving at The Splendid was the Holy Grotto of Mary Magdalene. After Jesus’ crucifixion, she, Lazarus and Martha were set adrift by the authorities in Jerusalem in a boat without a sail or rudder. They landed on the coast some days later across the estuary from Marseilles. From there they found refuge among the people, who apparently were anxious to hear of their story. As an act of penance, Mary was led to, (or discovered on her own?) an enormous grotto nestled beneath a massif that rivals that of Stone Mountain in Georgia.

There she lived the last thirty years of her life in quiet isolation. I suspect she had a worry some case of PTSD after witnessing the brutal murder of her Lord and Savior, and some have suggested, the true love of her life. The story gets interesting from there because her skeletal remains lay intact for centuries, then were discovered through sequences of events too deep into the weeds to reveal here, but the sad controversy ends up with a small container of earth which was saturated by Jesus’ blood, a leg bone and lock of hair of Mary Magdalene. The rest of her skeleton is scattered amongst robbers, conquerors, bishops and popes. It was humbling, even if one is not a “believer” to see this place. The hike reminded us of Roy’s Peak in New Zealand, but only 1/10th the distance. It is well worth the hike. The only real challenge is there are no restrooms available on sight. Luckily there are thick woods on the trail to the Grotto, so, well, you get the idea. Suffice to say people were walking quickly down the hill. If you are in the area, this is one of those must see places.

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After a nice lunch at Nans-des-Pins, we watched the local arborists “pollard” the Plane trees (they look like our sycamores) in the town square. It’s the technique where they get the trees to retain a uniform height and shape.

We spent last night in Arles (I asked Julie how to pronounce this place and she sounded as if she were choking on a bone). So, get some phlegm in your throat, and start the sound, like a pirate would say “Arrgh” but end the word by saying “luh.” I kept trying to explain to our new friends last night at dinner where we had been and they were clueless until our new friend, Patrick took pity on our pronunciations and he explained it to us. Then we were warned by other friends, that he speaks with a Marseilles dialect, so it may not be a popular pronunciation.

Our quaint tiny hotel in Arles, Logis de la Muette, was surrounded by one lane “streets” we commonly call “alleys” in the United States, all of which appear to run one way away from the hotel.

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We circumnavigated Arles for about thirty minutes before nudging our way to the front door. By now, the transmission on my poor Black Steed, my Fiat 500L has about 10,000 kilometers on it. Riding the clutch is simply a new way of life for me, and I learned to drive from my grandfather Carl Andrew Brannen, who was a champion clutch rider. His old Ford F150 had less than twenty thousand miles on the odometer, but after his passing, my uncle had it evaluated by a mechanic who told him the transmission and motor had about two hundred and fifty thousand miles on them and were way beyond serviceable repair.

In short, the towns of Europe are made only for locals born and raised in the neighborhood. The cities are not much friendlier. I suspect this has something to do with confusing invaders, based on the long history of warfare in this region of the world. Don’t give the enemy any help. And they don’t.

Arles has two incredibly well preserved Roman ruins both of which are still in use today: The Coliseum and the Theatre. We began our morning yesterday, walking the path of thousands of Romans from two thousand plus years ago. It is inspiring to be humbled in such a way.

We trekked to the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh museum and were treated to the Buhrle exhibit of Van Gogh work. The balance of the space was dedicated to about three floors of Alice Neel’s work. She, like Van Gogh was a tortured artist, but somehow the love came through Vincent’s work, whereas Alice’s view, in my opinion, was harsh and disturbing.

The thing that impresses me so much about Provence is that no matter where we go, we find good to excellent food, especially for dinner. We have not had a “meh” meal yet. And the wine at half of what we would pay at any restaurant in Dallas is exquisite.

The drive from Vence to Arles was about three plus hours, along the A 8 superhighway. It is a tollroad, and it is in perfect condition. Three lanes each way with trucks restricted to the right lane:  very civilized and very safe. We interrupted our journey with a delightful stop in Grasse, the perfume capital of France. The region is surrounded by flower growers who tend to their crop fields with the same intensity as any wine growing region on the planet. The old town of Grasse is like the others, tiny little alleyway streets, mostly for pedestrians, and lost tourists (sorry!). We hired a personal tour guide to show us the gardens of Grasse, and we were not disappointed. There are ancient ruins, panoramic views, unique shops and of course, people watching. The good news is that much of this region was left untouched by the world wars and so, with a few exceptions, the ancient parts of the towns look much like they did at the time they were created.

Our keys to enjoying the trip so far have been to greet people with a “bonjour!” attempt to speak the language and then communicate in English as much as possible. Just about everywhere featured people who were years beyond our French capabilities with their English. Try to find out what the local food specialties are and allow the waitpersons to order for you, their favorite or their chef’s favorite dishes. They are delighted to share that information and we have not been disappointed. Our hikes throughout the day are keeping the calories at bay, and I am still comfortably wearing the clothes I started out with. My only purchase has been two chapeaux. (hats). Somehow I lost my hat from Dijon late last winter, and I purchased two in Grasse: one for summer, and one for the fall and winter.

Tonight we celebrate Hugues’ 50th Birthday and we look forward to that, as it is the reason we are here. Going with the flow and remembering to love the journey, because we may never reach the end of the road.

“Write it up with pretty words, and wrap it in a rainbow. Make it smell like warm vanilla and read it by the moon glow.” From “Right Words, Right Now” by Ross Vick and TrueHeart

Postcards from the Eze: part deux et Vence.

“Why are you staying in Vence? Saint-Paul de Vence is much nicer.” So said the valet loading the luggage into our black Italian Stallion: Fiat 500L at le Hotel Chevre d’Or in Eze. Of course he would say that. He works at a five star hotel and there is a sister establishment in Saint-Paul de Vence. The hill top villages are very similar, with Saint-Paul being the larger of the two.

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Julie at Le 2, in Vence, France. Our room is just to the left of the street light.

If the geniuses at Disney had been asked to, they couldn’t have created a more stone-centric, narrow winding path with temptations galore of art galleries, jewelry, local weaving and design, restaurants, coffee shops. The kicker is, they even include the roller coaster rides—except here I am doing the driving. I told Julie today that our odometer says 2615 kilometers, but I’m guessing our transmission has at least 5000 kilometers on it.

In trying to put driving here into US perspective: think about driving UP Lombard Street in San Francisco, with fifty kilometer per hour traffic hurling head on, DOWN at you, and with traffic entering at every driveway. Hairpin turns are so tight that I have to execute three point turns with traffic coming at me just to navigate the turn.  I vowed to avoid alcohol during Lent and after driving in Europe for five days, I have been drinking like a fish, sleeping like a baby. The fab dinners have helped. So, let us start there.

Our first night in Eze featured our dinner gastronomic at le Hotel Eze Restaurant, a TWO Michelin star eatery. Again, to put it into perspective for the US, think: The French Laundry.  I thought it was as good or perhaps better in some ways than the Culinary Institute of America near Hyde Park, New York. The portions are perfectly seasoned and sized for the part of the course you are on. It is designed so that you can actually clean each plate and finish the seven (7) course dinner and still live to tell about it. And of course, each course is served with the perfect wine. The Chef signed our menu and I will have a photo of that to share in the near future.

The following night, we toned it down considerably and enjoyed wine on the terrace as the sun set Rose’ on the western horizon, inspiring our wine choice. We ordered up casual food: Chicken Caesar and a Chicken Supreme with local pommes d’terre avec herbs d’ Provence. It felt good knowing Julia Childs has taught me well on my Supremes avec wine cream sauce!

After a day of exploring the Jardin d’ Eze and inventing our own version of the Monte Carlo Gran Prix with Hugues, it was good to relax with some comfort food.

We got up earlyish the next day (yesterday) and after our encounter with the Valet, drove halfway back to Italy to get to the turnaround for the A-8 superhighway that took us past Nice and Cannes to the exit for Vence. That’s where it gets exciting. Again, think Lombard Street in San Fran and you get the idea. We parked at the Marie Antoinette parking lot and packed a few personal items to hike into the pedestrian only village centre to find our Bed and Breakfast: Le 2.

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Julie at Le 2 breakfast.

It is conveniently located right behind the town cathedral and as the crow flies, eight feet from the bell tower bell which robustly and enthusiastically rings on the hour, the quarter hour and the half hour! We always know what time it is! We give thanks to God that they terminate the bell ringing at midnight and don’t convene the ringing until 7am. And because we are on a small “square” we are treated to every conversation and bodily function of the tourists and populous. As Clark Griswold famously said: “It’s all part of the experience, Russ.”

 

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Ross at the Renoir residence, studio and museum in Cagnes- sur-Mer, France.

Yesterday, we careened our way to the Renoir Museum, scraped into a parking space after missing the turn and walked a quarter mile to the locked gate. They are opened on everyday of the week, except, yesterday. We mis-read the sign twice, walked twice to figure it out, so we got our walking in for the day, or so we thought!

After arriving at our hotel Le 2 in Vence, we embarked on a hike to the Chapelle du Rosaire, designed by Matisse. Again, after being misguided by my nose and by Siri, we turned an eighteen minute walk into a thirty minute walk, and we were rewarded by the self-proclaimed “reason for my being” by Mattisse.

I guess we looked no worse for the wear for all of the exciting driving and the walking, as we tapped on the door of the restaurant recommended by our Le 2 host. The hostess (and later we found out: maitre’d, waitress, bartender and cashier) opened the door: “We open at seven. Would you like to make a reservation?” We answered “Oui, sil vous plais” She asked “What time?” We said: “Seven.” She said: “Perfect! Two for seven o’clock!” We said: “Oui, Merci!” I looked at my watch, it was 6:48. So, well, rules are rules. But it forced me to recall a trip long ago, after a day of hard touring in Florence, we tapped on the door of Il Pandemonio and were greeted by the owner, chef who said: “Please, you must come in and sit down. I will bring you wine.” She brought us bread, cheese, meats, veggies and a bottle of wine. When she found out it was our anniversary she comped our meal, and other restaurant guests bought all of our champagne and Prosecco. So, are we spoiled? Yes! And with good reason.

So, we had twelve minutes to kill and walked to the pharmacie to purchase toothpaste and some eau d’ toilette pour moi. I just like the common-man fragrances here better than anything I have tried from Neimans.

At 7:02 we arrived back at the restaurant, disturbed our hosts’ dinner, had a lovely view of the mountains to the north and west of Vence (think Great Smoky’s and Cashiers NC—expect with drier vegetation).  The food was great, we had Le Menu d’ Gastronomic for like 22euros each with a bottle of wine and ate better than we could have for twice the money in Dallas. Julie had the Daube de Beouf; I had the Sardines (those babies are as big as small zucchinis!) and a host of other courses all of which were perfect and tasty.

We arrived back to Le 2 in time to hear the bell toll 10 times. It feels kind of “spoiled” to mention, but our hotel room has no door on the bathroom. But there is a public toilette one floor down for privacy. Anyway, we brushed our teeth and went to bed and fell asleep watching the French Presidential Debates. After the debacle of 2016, we turned it off and waited for more bells to chime us to sleep.

We arose this morning, early, the bells made sure we knew just how early, and the families getting their kids off to school about 7:30 helped inspire us to wake from our slumbers. By 9am we were having our breakfast of coffee and croissant (I’ve given up on gluten free for the most part of this trip, although, some restaurants we have attended have offered GF menus—actually, they are more attentive to it here than most places I have visited in the US.)

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Ross at the best cheese shop, in Vence, France, this side of Molto Fromaggio in Highland Park Village.

On our way out to explore the area, we stopped by a fromagerie and met the proprietor who is from France, but learned to speak English in New Zealand, and having been there recently I can attest to his distinctive dialect. He recommended four cheeses for us and directed us to the charcuterie next door for hard summer sausage. We were determined to have a picnic today!

We then retrieved our Black Stallion from the Marie Antoinette and drove to Saint-Paul de Vence to visit the Fondation Maeght, home to one of the most thorough art collections in France. Today they were featuring the work of a German artist named: Penck. His work spans nature, philosophy and a host of other nuclear and physical emotions and thought processes that are beyond my comprehension, but I am told by Julie it is quite extraordinary.

The art museum itself reminds me of some old campus buildings at SFA in Nacogdoches or maybe even AC in Lufkin. It must have been the pine forest they built the complex in back in the 50’s. It’s a great place to visit and truly worth the visit. I thought the Chagall mosaic and the Chapelle were really interesting. Braque designed the window there.

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Julie at the Chagall mosaic at the Fondation.

After visiting the Fondation, we drove into Saint-Paul, and if we thought Vence was narrow and alley-like in a Universal Hogwarts sort of way, Saint-Paul is even more so. It helps to “like that sort of thing,” but I enjoyed it. We found a place on the ancient city battlements to enjoy our cheeses, meats and bread and nibbled our way through lunch. Afterwards, we found a Macedonian art gallery and were impressed by the quality of work we found there. I later got trapped by a sales-femme in the Olive Oil and producs d’ provence shop and purchased enough for her to ship us our load home.

Julie and Siri navigated us out of Saint-Paul, and we made our way to the Renoir Museum. Having seen the movie, it was great to see the places where the master worked during the last years of his life. There are many of his paintings and sculptures there and it is, again, worth the effort to get there. (The parking lot is on the grounds so, when it’s open you don’t have to park on the street!). The pure effort it took for him to create during the last five years of his life makes the work he accomplished even more spectacular. (Just go watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean.)

I would say that travelling/touring here, is best done this time of year, because everyone we have talked with has insisted the summers are pure hell with tourists.

After leaving the Renoir and Penck exhibits, Julie, full of the spirit of the art found a small gallery on the walk back to Le 2 from Marie Antoinette (the parking lot). We met the artist and have negotiated a price and shipping for a piece of art. We will sleep on it and see what it looks like in the morning light.

The bells of the church are chiming to let me know either we eat now, or brush our teeth and head to bed.

I look forward to seeing what adventures “the morrow brings!”

Note from Julie: Before our trip, we had friends ask, with big eyes, incredulously, “You’re driving?” “Yes,”  we said with assurance! After these days in the south of France, I can say that driving here is not for the faint of heart! Mountains, tunnels, TALL bridges, tight passages and hairpin turns are challenging- fortunately, Ross is up to it! Merci mon amore!

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Ross with his: “Is it Wine o’Clock yet?” look on his face.

“I was alone when you found me, I let your love surround me” from Stay Right Here by Ross Vick and Gary Leach, recorded by TrueHeart.

Postcards from the Eze…

The Eze we are staying in is an ancient fortress locale that was destroyed as such by King Louis the XV. The rubble upon which this hotel and village stand could not have been recreated more perfectly by the artists at Disneyland/Disneyworld.

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Julie browses Le Menu Gastronomic in our room at Chateau de la Chevre d’Or in Eze, France.

To stay here is a step back in time. La Chevre D’Or is a “five star” hotel, in every way I can imagine to “grade” a hotel; the room is charming, the personnel is superb, amenities, locale, views, restaurants and bar are exquisite.

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The pathway to our hotel room at Chevre d’Or in Eze, France.

On a scale of 1 to 10 of hotels I have been privileged to stay with, this is a 9.5, and definitely a “destination” for any of life’s special moments. Julie and I are celebrating 34 years of marriage and 50 years of friendship. The Hotel La Chevre D’Or is a perfect place to celebrate.

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The pathway to reception at Chevre d’Or in Eze, France.

Our trip from Torino yesterday was filled with tunnels and bridges. I could not have imagined a more rewarding drive. If you are a fan of video games that involve dare-devil-driving, you would LOVE this drive! As stated in previous posts, the left lane has a 90kph sign, the middle lane has a 60kph sign, and the right lane has a 40kph sign. Based on the traffic blasting past me, I assumed the kph signs were “minimum” kilometers per hour indicators. I was advised by Hugues Genot today that they were indeed “maximum” kph signs. After a day, busy avoiding traffic on the speedway and navigating through the side roads and villages, we were ready for a good rest. We arrived at La Chevre D’ Or in Eze (pronounced Ezz), France.

I booked the two Michelin star restaurant for our arrival night. Probably a good call. We sat down for a nice meal and ended up spending four hours eating seven courses and a spectacular wine accompaniment.  My dear friend, Sandy Williams, would have been in cuisine heaven. Dinner was rewarding in every way, visual, tasteful, every sense we have. But Midnight thirty is Midnight thirty.

So, we slept in, after a few days of working hard to be good tourists. We have decided to give ourselves a “break” every few days or so, so that we will work hard at 10 hour days, as the location will allow, to see all that we can. But after a few days, we need to eat well, drink well and sleep well. Well, the La Chevre D’Or at Eze gave us the perfect opportunity to sleep in, as they serve breakfast until 11:00am.

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Julie and Hugues at the Villa Ephrussi De Rothschild at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.

At a few minutes to 10 we sauntered in for a leisurely breakfast and were greeted by our Birthday Boy: Hugues Genot! Hugues came to Eze from Cannes to join us for breakfast. It was a delight to see him!

The grey, dreary weekend was greeted by a bright sunny Monday morning! We had a delightful breakfast of omelets and coffee on the veranda. Oh my, what a view!

Hugues had business to attend to, so Julie and I explored the village of Eze, which again, if you have been to Hogwarts at Universal in Orlando, you will understand the mystery of this special place, except, there is no “back lot.” This place is what it is. The garden atop the ruins of the fortress are impressive and well worth the hours to explore the landscaping and the views on the horizon. On a clear day (I have been led to believe) you can see Corsica from here as well as the mountains surrounding Cannes to the west.

After breakfast we recalled our Fiat 500L from the valet and went for a drive to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

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The Villa Ephrussi De Rothschild at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.

It is much like Viscaya in Miami, (and about the same age! Built 1900-1912) with spectacular Jardins and on a peninsula surrounded by vistas that remind one of Carmel! After indulging ourselves with a delightful tour of the Jardin and the dancing water fountains, we set out for Monte Carlo.

I have always been infatuated with Grace Kelly, especially after “Rear Window” with co-star Jimmy Stewart, so the home of Princess Grace of Monaco, was a fun visit for me. We parked underground and walked around the harbor, half the size of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but with millions of dollars more expensive watercraft.

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Getting Ready for Le Gran Prix, Monaco, in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

One expects to see superstars strolling the strands and sidewalks as we walk through the city. We ended at the Monte Carlo Casino, an often filmed place in James Bond and other stories of excess. We enjoyed an afternoon “tea” of coffee, wine and sparkling water at the Hotel de Paris. It is such a delight to visit places so well known, yet so foreign. It is a delight to be in an a truly international place like Monaco and be appreciated for attempting to speak “the language” and be greeted with your own native language and a “bravo!” for the attempt.

The Grand Prix is soon to pass and Monte Carlo is the most famous place in the world for this event.

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Julie enjoys a statue honoring Le Grand Prix at Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Workers are feverishly hammering and assembling the grand stands for the event, and one can feel the excitement in the air. It is said in Houston and Dallas Texas that the new state bird it the crane: the same can be said of Monte Carlo! The money pouring in to this city building huge new hotels and business towers reminds Hugues and me both, of Hong Kong.

Hugues called a car from our Hotel La Chevre D’Or at the end of the day, and Julie and I enjoyed a sunset on the terrace of the hotel, and then delighted in a casual dinner in the bar of chicken supreme, Caesar salad and a flight of marvelous wines.

We look forward to a drive into the edges of Provence!

“I love to love you, simple, yet it’s true.” From “Angels Kiss” by TrueHeart

More about Torino (Turin)

Day 4

We started our eating adventures outside of a magnificent cathedral in the heart of the city near a locally famous coffee pub: Caffe Al Bicerin. Their specialty is a thick cream, coffee, hot chocolate concoction, made for cool, rainy, grey days that we have this weekend.

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And here’s some more info about our B&B:

B&B Palazzo Chiablese: 1922498702-kg6y.sgxw.vmjf.t9yw@property.booking.com

It’s a crazy long email addy, but there it is. Our hosts are Marta and Riccardo. They could not be more pleasant. Their home is on the third American floor, 2nd Italian Floor of a typical older building in the center of old Torino. The front door is off of an alley-like street called Vicolo San Lorenzo #1. It intersects a main street complete with a modern street car line. We are two blocks from the Shroud of Turin and from the Royal Palace. I cannot imagine a more convenient locale. The only caveat is parking. But when in the “go with the flow” mode, it is really no big deal. Julie and I packed an over-night bag and left our big travel bags in the vehicle. We left our Fiat 500 in the parking garage a few blocks away in the private space of our B&B. It’s covered and pass card entry-only-safe. We hiked up three long flights of stairs to our accommodation and were greeted by Riccardo and Marta as if we were long lost friends.

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When driving these old cities with crushingly narrow streets, one must be focused on the task at hand and allow much patience with both navigators: your co-pilot and Siri. They can both be right, and they can both be wrong, and then each in their own way, be right and wrong. And sometimes you just have to follow your nose.

One of the Travel Tips I wanted to remember to tell you about is bring a wash cloth. It’s something we take for granted in America. The other Travel Tip Julie wanted me to mention is being aware of the days of the week you are traveling and in which city. In other words, do a little checking to see what is open regarding museums, cathedrals, parks, restaurants and other points of interest so that the days you travel to your locations they are more likely than not to be available. We are traveling through wine country between Torino and Eze, France today: Sunday. We are hoping to find a few wineries open.

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Dinner last night was at a “locals” restaurant: L’Osto del Borgh Vej. It was number 4 on our hosts’ list. The other three were booked. Another travel tip: remember the day of the week you are visiting so that you can be aware if you need reservations for dinner. We needn’t worry too much, L’Osto was ranked number 155 out of 4555 restaurants in Torino. Julie had the Piedmont version of beef Burgundy; I had the Lamb Shank which fell off of the bone. The wine recommendation was terrific. Our sparkling wine: Contratto from Piemonte, was more like Champagne than Prosecco. Our red was a blend of Merlot, Syrah, a Monsordo Rosso, Cretto from Alba, Italy. It was very nice and opened perfectly with the meat dishes. The “house dish” is a home-made pasta/ravioli stuffed with meat sauce. Yes please.

 

 

 

“It may be for once in my life, that I really know where I am going.” From “Lay me Down” by Ross Vick and TrueHeart.

Today we left Menaggio for Torino (Turin).  Day 3. We were sad to depart The Grand Victoria Hotel.

The beauty of Lago Como is unparalled anywhere I have ever seen, except perhaps, Lago Maggiore, the sister lake a few kilometers to the west. We stayed at Stressa a few years ago with Leigh and Chuck Smith and were equally smitten with the area. Lemon Cello was involved as I foggily recall.

The drive from Menaggio to Como is tedious one and a half lanes for many kilometers. But once you get to the main highway – the A9 – it is three lane high speed traffic. Each lane has a minimum speed limit: the left lane 90kph, the middle lane 60kph and the left lane 40kph.  It took us nearly as long to get to Torino from Milano as it did to get from Menaggio to Milano.

The drive into Torino is not promising; the city is stereotypical urban, grey, untidy. Then upon getting into the city centre, it is typically medieval Italian, It is walkable with railed urban transit. Ancient Roman ruins, cathedrals from the 15th and 16th centuries, restaurants and shopping galore.

Our B&B is in the centre of the ancient city and our hosts are terrific. The accommodations are as we would have at home, and it is very comfortable.

Tomorrow we head for wine country, Monaco and Eze, France!

Bon Nuit!

“A long time” by TrueHeart from the “What is Mine” CD

There are some places you think you have been to, only because you dream about them. Lake Como is such a place

Day  2

Lake Como: It has been a long time!

Okay, so, who knew?

We began our day with a continental breakfast at the hotel: Grand Victoria. So, um, it was passable to be polite. I would forego the breakfast at the hotel and wander through the village and find  something with sunshine and a view. Julie warned me The Grand Victoria is nothing like “The Shining” but this time of year? Yeah, it kind of is. There is a German couple they placed next to us in room 102. We are the only people in the hotel. One of the people in 102 snores like a busted chain saw. It kept us up for way too long last night. What would it have hurt to separate the two couple staying in your 70 room hotel atleast one room apart? How professionals cannot understand these small nuances is a mystery. My score just because of that, for this hotel is 6 out of 10. Otherwise I would have rated it much higher. The location and view from our balcony, this time of year, is God inspired.

Aside from that? It was a spectacular day! We started at Villa Carlotta. We walked the gardens for 90 minutes and got lots of great gardening and landscaping ideas! The Villa itself was well appointed and full of period artwork.

We found a neighborhood café and had lunch on the shores of Lake Como. The food is exquisitely present and tastes fresh and delicious. Our view on the lake was of Bellagio and the Villa Marzi. We took the ferry across the lake to Bellagio to visit Villa Marzi. It reminded me of the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, but shorter in endurance.

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The Villa Marzi and grounds around are really fine and the crisp exquisite weather makes one wonder why one would ever leave such a place. But alas, Hugues 50th beacons and we are only a week away and many miles to travel!

At the Villa Carlotta today, we walked many acres of a really fine arboretum. On our walk we came face to face with a German couple. As we passed one another on the path, we said “good morning”. The German man asked if we were “English?”  I said “No”. He said: How do you say ‘hello’? I said: “Howdy!”  He said: “Howdy?” I said yeah: Howdy! He said: “Where are you from?” I said: “We are from Texas!” He said: “Oh I knew you were not from England because you are dressed too nice. The English dress is shorts and t-shirts.” I guess it just goes to show, that if you show respect, in what ever way you can to the country and place you are visiting, you can fool some of the people most of the time. Would we prefer to be in gym shorts and t shirts? Maybe. But, there is something to acquitting oneself in a way that doesn’t draw attention in a negative way.

As we travel, we try to not broadcast that we are not from here. It is evident enough to everyone that we are foreigners. We don’t need to advertise our college football team or professional team from the states as we visit the local special places of interest. We dress nicely, not in exofficio travel clothes, but in nice, comfortable, wearablce clothing that doesn’t scream: REI or Whole Earth Provisions.

The ferry ride across the lake was super and we watched helicopters drop loads of water on a wild fire in the mountains, and remembered fondly the visit to Villa Melzi, Prosecco at the Bar San Reno in Bellagio, and a fine dinner at La Conca in Mennagio.

The day was perfection. Lake Como was the perfect host: calm, cool, inviting. Tomorrow we depart this thin place on planet earth for Torino. A place new to both of us, and home to the Shroud of Tourin!

“What Goes Around” by Ross Vick and TrueHeart

Day 1

“What goes around comes back around”

Once the planning and packing are completed, there’s not much left to do on our part. It’s all up the airlines now. Delta was great at getting us to Milano. Some of our travelers on the JFK to Milan leg were less than polite or accommodating, but I will save that for a later blog.

For now, suffice to say that, we are here, happy and healthy. Our rental car experience was as it usually is, but this time with a very agreeable Dollar agent suggested the go cart I had rented would not accommodate both my passenger and our luggage. So I upgraded to a four door Fiat diesel standard transmission vehicle with less than 2000 kilometers on it. It is very nice and has enough umph to get us up and over the mountainous terrain we will be facing the next two weeks.

We landed as scheduled and departed Malpensa in our Fiat at 10:15 and arrived at our hotel: The Grand Victoria Hotel in Menaggio at 11:45ish. There are villages like this one, one after the other, the entire western (and eastern shore from what I can see) of Lake Como. Views and vistas rendered oohs and aahs from my navigator as we rounded twists and turns in the road. My focus was avoiding the head on traffic, so I missed much of the reasons for the gasping exclamations of “the views.” But I was able to cut my eyes enough to see what was in effect, “eye crack.”

I have been to “thin places” on this planet. I count Carlton, Oregon as one, and I now know why Lake Como is such a treasured destination for the world’s population. An ancient glacier lake formed by platonic shifts and hydronic forces of nature, it now serves as the backdrop for spectacular human communion.

Our Grand Victoria hotel is empty save for us and one other party, whom we have not seen or heard. I expected Jack Nicholson to greet us at the concierge desk when we checked in. Being here “before season” has its benefits: we get the place to ourselves, and the shops are closed, thus saving us a lot of time and money.

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Ross at the Grand Victoria Hotel, Menaggio, Italy (taken from Julie’s new iPhone 7 in “portrait” mode.

Buona sera!

“This is our life we can make it right, the joy in the laughter, the sting of the fight; after a long and lonely cold dark night, we’ll find the sunlight.” From “Sunlight” by Ross Vick produced by James Driscoll

At precisely 4:48am a clap of thunder startled me awake. As hoped, the weeklong experiment with getting up a half hour earlier each day really paid off.  I was up and at ‘em and jumped into the shower.  As part of my pre trip planning, I assembled my clothes ahead of time for the long day of travel. Not having to think about what to wear on travel day is just another little thing I try to remember to do to help make the day as stress and conflict free as possible.

Julie was up right behind me and went to the kitchen and prepared our cup of hot fresh squeezed lemon water. As she was stepping into the shower, Julie advised we (meaning me) needed to return the handful of travel books to the Highland Park Library before our departure. So I made our Almond/Coconut milk, pineapple, mango, chia with a splash of coconut nectar smoothi; left hers on the bathroom counter and headed out to the library.

It’s only a few blocks away, and the drive revealed that there had indeed been a big blow during the wee hours of the morning as the streets were covered with leaves and twig debris. I met the very pleasant and chipper newspaper delivery lady dropping off the Dallas Morning News and New York Times. I helped her out by dropping them and our books into the night deposit.

Upon arriving back home, Julie was putting the finishing touches on her packing, and impossibly, we were ready to go half an hour before our Uber driver was to arrive. We had a nice drive with James who even left me some health insurance brochures. We arrived at Terminal E precisely at 7am for our 10:15 flight to JFK. The Delta counter was sparsely populated with customers and the Delta associate was very helpful with our check in process. We are TSA PreCheck and have our Global Entry Cards and sped right through security (hence part of the chirpy nature of this posting!).

We don’t have seat assignments to JFK as a result of our “bargain tickets” so we will figure that out at the gate. Having a few hours to kill before the flight, we moseyed over to the Sky Club and met more friendly Delta employees. We’ve enjoyed a light continental breakfast of hard boiled eggs and fresh fruit and Starbucks coffee: fully loaded for Julie, decaf for me. Julie thinks we get along better when I’m not juked up on caffeine. It does make me sad to see heavy travelers stand at the bagel and bread trays munching on a fist full of bread while their bagels get toasted. If only they knew what a little cup of oatmeal could do for their cholesterol. Sigh.  Yep, and they are back again: toast, and repeat.

I would like to mention here that for the first time in 35 years, Julie  and I are travelling without a camera bag. This week, Julie stepped into the present. She is using her new iPhone 7Plus to photo-journal this trip. We are hoping the commercials are at least halfway true.  I am hoping we can figure out how to let you be the judge!

If you have read any of the previous posts, you will see that I am using my song lyrics to preamble my thoughts. Since this blog is all a stream of consciousness, I thought it would be a fun experiment to have a starting place with the song lyric. And since we had a helluva storm that I slept through last night, “Sunlight” would be a nice starting point. If you would like for me to send you mp3’s of any of the songs I mention, just let me know. Otherwise you can find my family band TrueHeart on iTunes, and checkout my website at rossvick.com to hear Holy Signs.

Unless something “exciting” happens, I will next blog tomorrow, from Lake Como!

Bonjour!

“You keep waiting for all the answers, but deep inside you’re afraid to chance there won’t be any Holy Signs.” From “Holy Signs” by Ross Vick

Isn’t it fun how time changes pace? It seems just yesterday I was digging around the internet for cheap fares to Europe to help Hugues celebrate his birthday, that was the fall of 2016. And now I’m in that pre-frantic mode trying to not forget any last minute items, tasks, obligations and honey do’s.

Traveling is something we enjoy doing, seeing new things, meeting new people and cultures. But sometimes we get stuck in the rut of waiting for the perfect time, budget, health, weather, season to actually live our lives. I’m glad we stepped out into this lark, that we have friends such as Hugues and Catherine to keep us in their thoughts so that we can share this special event with them.  It will be what we choose to make of it. The fact that we’ve made it this far, should be our Holy Sign.

I found a post on line from Brooks Brothers about how best to fold a suit. I hope my tux makes it with out the need for major steam ironing. I’d never though about turning one side of the jacket inside out and nested inside the other shoulder to keep the padding in the shoulders from getting crushed. I do reckon they know what they are talking about.

The rest of it is pretty mundane. I chose to not pack by day, but layer things in the bag in a manner in which I though gave them the best opportunity to not become impossibly wrinkled. Of course, all bets are off if an inspection takes place. There’s no telling what I will land in Milan with.

Tonight is my last night of my “catch up with Jet Lag” experiment. I’ve been going to bed an hour earlier for a week, getting up this morning at 4am, trying to get my body clock somewhat acclimated. I got my yard work done two hours before dawn, in the light of the blinking traffic signal on our corner. It was a surreal strobe like experience, in red and green Christmas tones.

Upon arrival, we are going to experiment with the $10 per day international mobile phone plan at&t offers. If we use a phone to reach a cell tower, they will charge that line $10.00 for 24 hours. If we can remember to use WiFi calling and pay attention to our maps, we can probably keep that expense to a minimum, otherwise, if we are not careful, and don’t keep the phones on Airplane Mode except in an emergency, we could get home with a $240 kicker on our bill. If we don’t use it, we don’t pay, so it’s up to us to be good stewards of that budget item. Plus, I’d rather spend the money on wine anyway!

Uber is supposed to arrive at 6:15am and that is coming quicker “than a minner swim a dipper” so my next post should be on the other side of Security. And if we make it that far, surely that is a Holy Sign too! Bon Nuit!

“Friend for Life” from “Friend for Life” by Ross Vick & Elise Judd

It’s funny how fast life has evolved. I was going to start this post with something like: “You know those tapes that play in your head?” Then I started thinking about my kids and grand kids and they are totally befuddled by the question. What kind of tape? How does it play? Well, to put it in contemporary vernacular, there are thoughts and voices that once thought and heard cannot be unthought and unheard. Some voices ask incredulously: “Why do you keep returning to Europe, and France in particular?”

There is the National Geographic answer; The Rick Steves answer; the Elle, Mademoiselle and Vogue answer. The justified permission behind my obsession is that both of my grandfathers left parts of their souls in combat in France and Germany. It is visiting the battlefields where pieces of themselves and hundreds of comrades are seared into the muddy trenches and craters, pristine meadows and fields of gold awaiting harvest that draws me like a moth to a flame.

This trip will be different for a change. The tolerance with which Julie, my traveling companion of thirty-five years trooped along with me is beyond measure. With little American and Texas flags in hand, she has endured somber walks through the military cemeteries of the Champagne region, placing American flags on the graves of the American Unknown and Texas flags on the graves of our Texas boys who gave their last full measure.

 

The region north of Paris is where, in 1918, my nineteen year-old maternal grandfather, Carl Andrew Brannen, fought with the 2nd Division (Indian Head), 4th Marines, 6th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 80th Company, through every battle the 2ndID participated.

His fortitude was recognized by both the French and the United States Governments. He was selected to the prestigious Pershing Honor Guard and marched through Paris, London, New York and Washington DC in the Great War’s Victory Parades.

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United States Marines preparing for World War I

The trips we have made have always started in Paris: the food, site seeing and visiting the museums never get old. I’ve never had that: “been there done that” feeling. It’s the same with New York, Boston, Venice, Florence, Stressa, Florissant, Seaside, New Orleans, Memphis, Santa Fe, Napa, Carmel, Sonoma, Mendocino, Carlton, Christchurch, Akora, Lake Wanaka, Milford Sound, Wellington, Utopia, Lufkin or Dallas. I’m adaptable that way.

From Paris we usually drive to Belleau Wood, where the Marines and other 2nd Division Army Units put up a heroic fight to stop the German final offensive to Paris. The world has forgotten that the Americans arrived just in the nick of time.

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Julie with (not her idea of) a French 75 at Belleau Wood: Bois de la Brigade de Marine.

Those visits are nearly always incorporated with a swing east to Sarreguemines, where my paternal grandfather, Ross W. Vick Sr., commanded Company E of the 255th Regiment, 63rd (Blood and Fire) Division in the 7th Army assault on the German West Wall: The Seigfried Line.

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1st Lt. Ross W. Vick Sr., Munich, Germany 1945. Commander, E Company 255th 63rd ID.

He lost most of his command during that assault, and his company was pulled out of line so they could refit and reorganize. His combat experience extended into Germany, through Walsenburg and ended up in Munich.

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Ross W. Vick, Jr., and Pat Vick at a German bunker on the Seigfried Line, near Ensheim Germany.

After the journey of eating, driving, drinking and soberly reminding ourselves that “freedom isn’t free” our way through some of the most vicious combat known to our country (in Europe at least), we make haste to Paris for the flight home. Recently though, we have discovered there are other regions of France. (Who knew?) (Uh, Julie knew.)

Hugues arranged for me to perform for a week in Dijon in a “Dallas – Dijon Sister City” event, inspired by Stanley Marcus’ Fortnight. Discovering Chablis and Burgundy have been some of the greatest discoveries of my wine appreciating life

Then, a couple of years ago, Mac Tichenor invited us to celebrate his birthday on bikes through the Loire Valley. A dozen friends joined Mac and Lisa on this adventure. It began with a premier view of the final day of the Tour d’France.

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Ross and Julie at the Tour de France, celebrating Mac’s birthday.

Our last night was an impromptu picnic on the Loire river in the shadow of the Chateau Royal d’Amboise. We stopped traffic as a rousing rendition of American Pie echoed through the valley.  It was now okay to be in France and not visit Normandy Beach, Verdun, Blanc Mont Ridge or Sarguemmines.

All the while, Julie has been inquiring if I had ever heard of a region of France called Provence? I used to answer her question with a question: Is there an American Cemetery there? Now we are going. At least we are going to touch the south and east region of it. Of course, the only way we could afford to get there was to be hit over the head with those $380 round trip tickets from Delta and Air France from DFW to Milan. Turns out Milan is the closest major airport with non-stop service from JFK to Cannes, which is our ultimate destination for the birthday celebration of Hugues Genot. It is good to get this travel monkey off of my back.

Last minute details abound, and they are indeed tedious, but they must be done, so that at least, once air born, we can focus ahead, not behind, and perhaps those tapes playing in my head will give me a new kind of focus.