Monday, October 31, 2005

And from the other traveller...

Switzerland where there is no exclamation point on the keyboard as far as I can figure and the z and y are in opposite positions so you becomes zou on a regular basis.

Trains are wonderful inventions especially when they have reservations and get one from Venezia to Zurich in one shot even with a hangover. (Thanks be I didn't have to find my way around Milano Centrale in my somewhat fragile state.) I am booked onwards to Paris on the overnight one on Wednesday so another adventure to report then.

Venezia lived up to her reputation as a tease by providing a lovely sunny day for my departure. I only hope the photos I tried to snap down the Grand Canal will turn out. The architectural variety is (all together now....) amazing. I think Himself will be surprised to see the Byzantine framing but the various tour guides made it quite clear that Venezia's first connection was east rather than south to Rome. Lots to think about.

Yesterday, in Zurich at the end of October, we went hiking in t-shirt and light cotton trousers (which are going into the box for home being sent to make room for Paris **** - those are my new exclamation marks*) and today (Hallowe'en and I hope The Junior Girl has the pumpkin carved and the goodies bought....) we are going to visit my cousin's son (?1st cuz once removed?) at his newly opened restaurant. And then a walk to deal with whatever we have eaten there** My cousin Elli has taken a couple of days off which is very generous and very helpful but we seem to be walking from apfelstrudel mit schlage rem to vermicelli castagne mit schlage rem and finishing the days with some lovely rose wines. This travelling is really rough, eh??

Love to you all. Especially The Juniors who have made me laugh and laugh.

Auf Wiedersehn

Getting into Syria....

Made it into Syria. High anxiety at the border, but, was finally successful.

I need to catch up on the last few days. Wednesday morning, we left our hotel in Petra very early, 0545, to catch the morning sun on the ancient buildings. Tony & I slept on the Hotel roof and had a very good sleep! The ticket office at the Petra site opens at 0600 but the fellow sold us tickets at 0550 and we hustled down the dirt road. Magnificent narrow and high canyon passage to the "Treasury Building", one of the fearure photos of Petra. Saw it in the morning light in silence. Spent six hours walking through the site, the highlight,after a long hot climb to a mountain top, being the "Monastary", carved out of the sandstone cliff. 45 metres high, ... about 140 feet! As we descended, the hordes of noisey bus-tourists were flooding in. We were glad we arrived very early.

We motored up the Kings Highway, through the beautiful and stark mountains to Al Karak and found a secluded, or so we thought, place to camp on the outskirts of the mountain town. We has some locals visit us as we were making supper. They were very friendly but we didn't have much language in common. Next mornng, we motored back up the mountain to see the fortress built by the Crusaders in about 1140. A fantastic castle, very well preserved, with spectacular views down to the Dead Sea. Motored down the twisty, well paved road through the canyon to the flat plain with Israeli cliffs on the other side. The road goes north up the East side of the Dead Sea and was a beautiful ride. Mountains to the right and the sun flashing on the Dead Sea to the left. We stopped a a private beach for a swim, one of the "must do" things we had agreed. Water was refreshingly cool and so salty that I had to tread water to keep my feet DOWN! If I had a newspaper, I could have floated on my back and read it.

After a shower and a very nice sit in the sun, we motored off to Amman, about 40 minutes up the hills. The Dead Sea is over 1000 ft. below sea level and Amman is 3,500 ft. above sea level, so it was a steady climb. In Amman, we stayed with some British Embassy friends of Roy's and went to a Halloween party at the Embassy that night. First glass of wine in about six weeks! We had a very pleasant and comfortable visit visit. Next morning, Friday, we enjoyed a "proper English breakfast", packed up and headed for Jarash, on the way to the Syrian border. We tried to see a Roman site there, but, it was closed. From what we did see, the Leptus Magna site we saw in Libya was much larger, so, we didn't feel too bad about missing this one.

On to the Syrian border. Lots of fruit vendors along the sides of the road and green trees. The road was good and we motored along at a steady 100 km/hr. I was very anxious about this border crossing. Although I'd been told by the Syrian Embassy in Ottawa that I could get a visa at the border, "No problem", other information said "no". We cleared the Jordanian prcedures and paid our exit taxes. Motored about one km before we reached the Syrian border checkpoint. The immigration official said that it was impossible to get a visa, as stated on the large sign on the wall, and that I'd have to go back to Amman. He didn't speak much English and was particularly unhelpful. My worst trip nightmare come true. I explained again twice to no effect.

Moved down the counter and tried another official. He actually smiled and spoke a bit more English. I tried again. He confered with others and said that they'd have to phone Damascas and, "Please could I wait about an hour". I sat on a bench while the others waited outside. High anxiety. After 20 minutes the frowning first official came to get my passport. He returned after another 15 minutes with a note in Arabic and pointed outside to the "bank". I walked outside and found an "Exchange" and changed 56$US for Syrian Pounds and walked back. This looked like a good sign! The frowning fellow put the requisite stamps into my passport and I was a very, very happy traveller! I hate to think of trying to activate the Plan "B" by re-entering Jordan. Very relieved, I joined the others and we did the paperwork and paid the fees to register the motorcycles. The entire Syrian border experience was only 75 minutes; a new best record for us in spite of our worst expectations.

It was dark as we motored to Derna'a, the next town, and found a hotel. Lots of small motorcycles here but Jordanians are prohibited from owning them. Our motorcycles always attract crowds and we haven't seen any other large bikes since Egypt, and there were very few there. Woke up very early to the "Call to prayer" at about 0500, and snoozed to 0600. Packed up the bike and here I am at the internet shop in the hotel building. We head North in about an hour. Sure feels good not to be on my own back in Jordan!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Listen to Your Kids..

and they will tell you stuff you should-ought to pay attention to. Things such as: Only Pack Black, Mum. I have already called The Jr Girl and apologized but figured I'd best 'fess up to the rest of you and add that I have had to buy some black and will be mailing the non-black to somewhere (England? home? Timbuktu?) so I have room for more black should it jump out at me in the next 3 weeks. The season I kept hoping wouldn't change obviously has because everysinglefemale is wearing black tights and black something else. I have bought 3 pairs of tights and one pair is (?are?) wool!!

They also tell you: carpe diem and if you are in a different country, you eat different food (actually, I think we told them that a few years ago but it seems to have come back ...) Thank you, my darlings, there is nothing like the pasta and risotto I have eaten here in the past days. Where else would I get lasagna made with arugula, radicchio, ricotta, and local mushrooms on Monday and be told it was off the menu b-c it was out of season on Thursday(guess they were clearing the frig - no walk-ins here) but I could have lasagna with pumpkin if I wanted. And be offered a whole dorado for our table for the secondo piatti.

The practicalities of living here continue to boggle me. How about the guy mixing cement by hand (yes, with a shovel and at least he didn't have to go far for the water!!) b-c there was no way to get even a little mixer into the space where he and his partner were re-setting some steps. There are pushcarts used but, b-c of the steps up and down on the bridges, they have little wheels on the front for rolling up and down. Everyone who lives here seems to be very patient with the length of time it may take to get from one place to another. The turisti are another issue. We stand in their way and gawp at their very ordinary lives marvelling aloud at how "they don't even have cappucinos to go". Strange beasts we are demanding the familiarity of home in this foreign, floating place.

Those of you wondering about TSB: he was in Amman last email and heading for the Syrian border hoping to get a visa there. (Thank you Royal Mail for your incredibly lousy service!) By now, he is either there or not there! Stay tuned.

Tomorrow, I get on the train for an 8 hour ride to Zurich and a few days with my cousin Elli who, among other fine gifts has a washing machine and I will be there on her washing day. Hope the jeans don't dissolve in shock! It will be interesting to see what will fit into the suitcase and what will have to be worn!!

And does anyone know if the French Vincent crew meet on the first Fri or the first Mon?? Hey, I'm there for both days and feeling a bit cheeky about my language capabilities!!

And that's it for now. Arrivederci.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This one's for you, Julie....

There is no comparison with the journeys and the adventures so don't look for one!! Today was gliding across the lagoon to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. The weather is being typical October weather: very misty with islands, boats, campaniles drifting in and out of focus. The end of the day, the sun finally burns through but only enough to gild everything with light. As with versions of Romeo and Juliet I have seen where it now obvious that the set designer and/or director had been to Verona, so I find that remembering some versions of The Merchant of Venice reflect the shifting quality of light and life in this watery place.

Murano: home of glassmakers for over 700 years. Glass blown and molded into shapes and forms one wouldn't have believed possible. We're talking 50 000 Euro pieces on display, people! Not quite my style and the dusting would kill me (stop laughing all of you!) but worth seeing once. I still haven't seen anything as charming as Julie's strawberries but then I am extremely biased!!!

Burano: home of fishermen and, b/c the ladies have to have something to do while the boys are away, lacemakers. And housepainters except these guys are not going to get any commissions in the boringness of West Kel Est let me tell you. Just pause for a minute and go and dig out your crayons and pick out all the yellows, purples, pinks, browns - terracotta to chestnut, blues including aqua, turquoise, and marine, and greens. No white, no black. It was quite the cheery eyeful in the mist I can tell you! The lace was everything from spider web fine to the SEast Asian factory coarse because they can't fill the demand of the millions of tourists with the few local ladies - youngest 54, eldest 92 - who still work by hand. This place also has a Leaning Tower: in fact there are several all over the lagoon but this one is noteworthy b/c it is as far out of line as Pisa's and they still ring the bells in it daily!!

Torcello: an island with only 15 permanent residents now but the longest inhabited in the lagoon. The church is 11th C (I think - the numbers and centuries are starting to blur....) and very Byzantine with bright and glorious mosaics in the iconographic style. Today I learned that being bad is going to get me in trouble of the hot and burning variety unless I continue to commit the sin of anger in which case I will be frozen in my anger. The church was a lovely oasis of quiet and space for about 15 minutes when we were invaded by a group of teenage boys on a school trip ( yeah - we send ours on sports events, these guys get the mosaics and church of Torcello. No wonder the Italians have a different perspective on life's importances!!) We escaped by walking up the 8 or 9 floors of ramps to the top of the bell tower and gawped at the distances we could see in the clearing light.

I am enjoying this group much more than the previous one - there are only 19 of us and we are staying in one place so there isn't the packing up and moving on every couple of days. There are several couples as well as about equal numbers of men and women travelling solo. AND I have a room of my own!! Mind you, it looks like it was dropped out of a bordello (stop asking how I would know that - my idea of a bordello, ok??) all red and gold flocked wall paper over padding (good for soundproofing and hiding the irregularities in the plaster which happen when your hotel along with everything else in town is sinking...) and red carpet with gold and pink flowers on it and shutters that go up and down with a switch. I had to buy a white cyclamen to help counter the red but it is having a tough time in there!!

Tomorrow is more art and maybe a concert in the evening. I am finding the assault on the eyes and the constant being lost more tiring than I expected but it's Venezia, eh???

And just when I thought that nothing could beat the scooter lady on the autostrada, the other night we were treated to a gondola ride. Lovely and romantic (warning to Himself - a repeat visit is required!!), right? Well for the couple in the couple seat, yes. For moi in the side seat, slightly less so as I could watch our gondolier having a smoke and talking on his cell phone!! And today? I took the vaporetto along the Grand Canal and watched in disbelief as 2 vaporetti, 2 gondoli, 1 traghetto, a moving "van" barge, a motor boat and 3 taxi boats ALL were manouevered through the same 30 metres of canal space. Those of you who have been here will be smiling and the rest of you will have to ask questions!!!

OK: time to sort out some food. Last night I learned about the joys of "spritz": Campari, white wine and acqua con gazza. Very nice and you can look forward to it next summer as Casa Nostra!!!

Arrivederci, mi amici.

Our Man in Jordan....

This is truly the second reason why I did not go on His Adventure....

I'm in an i/n cafe in Petra, Jordan, after a very looong day. That's the good news. The bad news is that getting here from Nuweiba was a true nightmare.

Yesterday, Monday in Nuweiba by my abused memory, we packed up and left our beachfront hut and arrived at the ferry ticket wicket at about 10.00 a.m. Tickets purchased without any problem, things looked good. We then rode the bikes to the entry gate to the ferry departure compound. No one spoke any English, but they pointed us towards the first step of the Egyptian departure experience. Sun is getting hot by now. The compound is large with many buildings, parking lots and internal roads. Very few signs in English. There were a large numbers of freight trucks, buses and hordes of Mecca pilgrims sitting on carpets or the dusty asphalt. There were lots of Port Police and Tourist Police but no ferry personnel to advise us of when our ferry was expected or where in the maze we were supposed to be for loading. There were two ships docked, but we couldn't find out if we were supposed to be on either of them. Anxiety steadily mounts.

Meantime we had to clear immigration, return our license plates & driving licenses and get our carnets (financial bonds to ensure that we'll take our vehicles with us) signed and stamped. We spent the next three and a half hours walking from office to office with pieces of paper for stamps and signatures under the prime heat of the day. There's no food available 'cause its Ramadan, but we have some munchies and can buy drinks. Back and forth we walk, getting more and more tired and frustrated. We finally finish the process by 2:15 p.m. but still don't know when our ferry will arrive or where we're supposed to be. We begin to doubt that we'll get out of there that day. Finally manage to find a Tourist Policeman who speaks some English and points us to the right place, ... we hope.

The ferry should arrive in an hour.

We hear this said a number of times. Dusk arrives.

We snooze as best as we can.

I find an English-speaking Egyptian who is in one of the few cars. Its his first time also but he confirms that our location is right. Ferry arrives at 8:00 p.m. and we look for loading signs for a couple of hours. Loads at 10:30 p.m. We're directed to park the bikes in a pool of slippery diesel oil. Confidence building moment. We migrate to the upper deck, shoulder to shoulder with the walk-on pilgrims. Ship leaves at about midnight on a beautifully smooth sea, thankfully.

All the benches are taken by the time we reach the top deck, so we find a corner of deck to stretch-out. No real food since about noon, and none in sight. I must have snoozed from exhaustion, but I don't remember it. The decks were covered with sleeping/eating/talking people with no clear path to walk through. Toilets had long line-ups and the smell was gag producing. We munched a few dates and managed to get a cup of tea. Even at 2:00 a.m., the noise level was high.

Ship arrived in Aqaba at about 4:00 a.m. and I picked my way through the bodies to get close to the exit stairway. I was trapped there, standing squashed like a sardine for almost an hour before there was any movement. Finally, the pushing mass started to move slowly down the single staircase. Things started to improve once we got to the vehicle deck as it was almost empty by the time we got there.

Morning light barely visible as we started the immigration, vehicle registration and insurance process all over again in Jordan. To our relief, the Jordanians are much more efficient than the Egyptians and although it still took over three hours, it was a almost hassle-free. By about 8:30 a.m., we were on the road to Aqaba in search of food. Almost anything would do, but, nothing was open! After reaching the end of our endurance and patience with each other, we found a luxury hotel with a beautiful outdoor cafe with a full breakfast buffet. We indulged like the refugees that we were, and looked like! Almost 24 hours without any substantial food, and almost no sleep.

But, we're in Jordan and, so far, its much better than Egypt. Cleaner,much better maintained, good roads with drivers who aren't homicidal. We went to see the majesty of Wadi Rum and it was indeed impressive. Had a wonderful ride through the stark mountains to Petra, at times at 5,500 ft. and cold. We're in a basic-but-adequate hotel, with T.P. and me sleeping on the roof under a shelter and open to a view of the town, mountains and the stars. I think its $8.00 Can with breakfast. Tomorrow, we're up early to get the colour of the first light on the ancient places. Then to Amman. We are checking the political situation in Syria and if it looks doubtful, we can reroute through Israel then by ship to Turkey, as confirmed by four very nice Israelis that we talked with today. This is already tooo long, but the past two days have been rather ... filled with experiences!

And we all say, "Amen!"

Monday, October 24, 2005


Locals and others: try to imagine the causeway to the ferry at Tswwassen (ok:YOU spell it correctly without looking it up) only with train tracks apparently going to the sea with nothing beyond but some buildings floating in the watery air. Look out the window of your train as you start onto this causeway and realize that you are in the train slowly riding past the running of the 20th Venezia Marathon. Think: "if I trained, I could come back here and run the marathon..."

45 minutes later, debarking from the vaporetto near your hotel, you realize that the marathon is running on the fondamente which you are going to walk along. Stop and cheer (Brava/Bravo) and take a good look at these runners. Think: "maybe I'd rather train in wine and food enjoyment" Welcome to Venezia where there are people running marathons past people eating amazing (that word again) Sunday lunches who raise their glasses to toast one another and the runners wobbling by on their last miles.

Welcome to Venezia where getting lost is not just for the tourists, where the gondola ride after dinner last night was one of the most magical trips I have ever taken (warning to The Sr Boy: this is definitely a save-up-and-return-to place!!), where the gondola maker said, after I said that my father really liked wooden boats (thanks, Alessandro for the translation), that all true men liked wooden boats b/c a wooden boat was like a real woman and those 'plastic' boats were like plastic women and the only good thing about a plastic woman was that she never got a headache!!

Welcome to Venezia - my new most favourite place in the world. It's time to meet new acquaintances for dinner. (see above para for info on training plans!!)

Arrivederci e a domani.

In the Sinai

so you know that this is not from Herself!!!

We've reached the Red Sea and are in Nuweiba, a small town on the East coast of the Sinai, where the ferries go to Aqaba, Jordan. We had a pain-free escape from Cairo yesterday morning. Got up at 0540 to gather our things and meet our taxi for the 20 minute ride to our bikes, stored with friends Heather & Sabri. We loaded-up and got into the traffic at about 0715, following our faithful taxi driver to the Sinai highway. Traffic was light at this time in Ramadan and we were soon on the desert road leading to the tunnel under the Suez Canal. Cool riding temperature was a surprise.

The canal is heavily guarded and we went through two roadblocks with many police. No delays, however, and we passed under the canal taking about three times as long as the Dease Tunnel. Once up on the other side, looking over my shoulder, I saw a the superstructure and cranes of a large ship floating over the sand dunes, just like in the movies!

The Sinai has a wonderful stark beauty, much like southern Utah. We had a beautiful ride as the well paved road twisted through the desert mountains. Perfect blue sky and bright sunshine, ... and many more police checkpoints, most requiring us to stop and show passports and driving licenses. One has the added feature of a very alert soldier behind a heavy machine gun pointed at us from a rooftop.

We were going to go to St. Catherine's Monastery at Mt. Sinai, but it's closed in the afternoons, and the "Park Fee" to use the one-way road made the road to Nuweiba more attractive. We've spent the day here on and off the beach, ... and could be easily persuaded to spend more time here as our beach-front hut, sleeping two, is only $10.00 Can each, per day! But, the return journey has started and we have to pay more attention to the calendar. We'll be getting our tickets to the ferry to Aqaba tomorrow. Long line-ups are expected as a ferry from Suez sank after a collision last week and more traffic has been diverted to Nuweiba. I hope the next news report will be from Jordan.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hostelling (dedicated to The Jr Boy)

or, sometimes I think I should have done this 30 years ago.....

Remember to bring a lock. If you forget a lock, you might just have to either carry your pack around all day (paranoid) or leave it in the storage locker (hopeful). I remembered my lock but came home to find I had forgotten to close it. 10 points for remembering the lock, -9 for the other side.

Remember to sort out everything for the morning the night before especially if leaving before roomies are awake. Thanks to the roomie of 2 nights ago for re-inforcing this at 0545h. 1 point for the lesson, 5 points for remembering it myself last night.

It is possible to sleep with only one blanket in an unheated dorm in Verona at the end of Oct. Not preferable. If there is a spare blanket in the room, 1st come, 1st snaffled. 7 points.

Chat with the staff unless they are frantic busy with various beagles who arrive and want service RIGHT now. Use time when they are busy to look up words you need in the dictionary. 3 points.

Other travellers may have useful information. Do not discount them simply b-c they are (a) old or (b) young. 6 points for keeping mouth shut when advice could have been given. 6 points for asking for advice from fellow journeyers of all ages and stages.

Showers do not need to be 25 minutes long. That is greedy and leaves the rest of us with NO HOT WATER. Me? I'm operating on the PTA system b-c I know I can shower tomorrow in Venice. And I forgot my flip-flops. 3 points for the learning, -5 for the lack of f-f which will be needed in the next hostel.

If you don't like a hostel with rules, don't stay there. Go somewhere else. Do not whine, do not make loud noises after curfew, do not yell at the desk staff when they refuse to re-book you for another night. For liking hostels with rules that are enforced, 16 points.

Food is good. So is laundry. Leaving both all over the dorm is not. 5 points for figuring out how to hang up my laundry over my locker door b-c there is nowhere to attach the ends of E's laundry line.

Sleeping in one's clothes is sometimes a necessity. 3 points.

Talking in the morning is polite. Long conversations may be unnecessary. Grunting gets the point across. 2 points.

Grand total so far: 53 (I think - the on-strike Math teacher can check in his spare time)

And the season is definitely changing: the balcony gerania are being replaced with the white, pink, violet, fuschia, red of cyclamens. 2.50 Euro for a large pot in the market in Siena. Flowers so much more prevalent here and are acquired as a matter of necessity during the marketing sometimes already arranged and sometimes simply a bunch or a plant. I hope to find one tomorrow for the hotel room in Venice.

Julie's scarf has had several adventures including a visit to Fatto a Mano yesterday. All silk clothes and accessories and me with my valise already too full not to mention the Visa card issues.... The scarf was delighted to see such beauty and to be treated with such graciousness by the unbusy, non parlo inglese, shopkeeper. Looking forward to the glassworks!!

There is another Roman theatre here and an arena so it's back to the ancients for the day. +13 and high overcast - perfetto!!

Arrivederci e mille bacci.

Our Man in Cairo...

Here is the latest from The Senior Boy

Tuesday morning we awoke to heavy smog and could barely see the great pyramid of Cheops, only about a half mile away. Cleared quickly and we were at the entry gate at 0800 along with the long line of tour buses. great line of people lined up for tickets at a little cinder block building with two wickets and no signage at all. Pass in hand, I headed across the dust to a second wicket for the ticket to go into Cheops. Entered a tight opening up a few stone blocks from the base of this enormous structure. Not for the claustrophobic. Hunched over with bent knees scrambling up a long 30 degree slope to another huge ceilinged inclined passage-way to the burial chamber lined with huge blocks of polished black granite. The ceiling is formed by even larger granite blocks, maybe 8 to 10 feet by 15 to 20 feet that span the whole room. How they made this place is beyond me. The joints between these blocks is so perfect that you couldn't get a piece of paper between the blocks, and this was make 4300 years ago!

We've had very full days here with many sights and experiences. After the Giza pyramids on Tuesday, we connected with Arthur Farrow's sister, Heather and her Egyptian husband, Sabri, who live only a half mile from the pyramids. the provided very valuable advice and offered to store our bikes while we're here. We arranged to rent a taxi on a daily basis to take us to & from our downtown hotel and our places of interest. In the downtown, we also used the Metro/Subway which is very modern, clean, efficient and inexpensive (15 cents one way).

On Wednesday, we went South to Memphis and Saqqara where there are ancient tombs of kings and early pyramids, one of which is about 4700 yrs old, and the oldest stone monument known so far. Some of the tomb chambers had very elaborate art carving on the interior stone walls. In the afternoon, we went to the Citadel fortress started by Salahdin, 1160 a.d. and expanded by the Ottomans. Visited the great 19th C mosque with a very good guide who explained many aspects of Islam under the incredibly beautiful five-domed ceiling.

Yesterday, Thursday, we went to the huge Cairo Museum and were totally awestruck by the size of the exibits and incredible beauty of the artwork. Saw an art carving on a large arrowhead-shaped stone that is 5100 years old. It puts the hassles of daily existence in a different perspective. Later in the afternoon, we visited a 4th C Coptic Christian church that's suspended over two huge Roman tower bases that serve as foundations. Tradition is that the Christian faith was taken to Egypt by St. Mark. Wood from the church has been carbon dated to 150 B.C. and it may have originally been a roman temple. Finished the day with a short sail on the Nile.

Today, Friday, we visited a couple of military museums which put a very patriotic slant on the 1973 War with Israel when Egypt regained the Sinai. During one one of the stops, some of our things were stolen from the trunk of our taxi while the driver was in a mosque for prayers. This caused some quick replanning and a search for replacement boots for Roy. We can survive without the stolen items, but it's a dark cloud. Tonight, Heather & Sabri guided is to the old market/Souk area. What an experience! Very crowded, narrow streets, ancient stone-arched gates, aromas of spices, flashing colours, piles of merchandise and sparkling jewelry. Stopped for tea in a crowded street cafe and watched the parade of people go by.

Traffic here is hard to believe; very agressive, seemingly uncontrolled, horns blaring, most cars scraped and dented (especially the hords of black & white taxis). However, we didn't ever see a collision, as impossible as that is to me! Saw a couple of shoving altercations and one heated argument with a very angry driver punching a policeman through the driver's window. We were very glad to be in a taxi and not riding the bikes! Tomorrow we hope to escape before the traffic gets intense. It's now 0035 and I have quite a walk back to the hotel and sleep. It may be a couple of days before we see another internet outlet.

Friday, October 21, 2005


or: Romeo and Juliet are alive and well and living in Verona, despite what that bloke Wm Shakestick might have written. I can visit Juliet's house with balcony and even her tomb (which kind of obviates the alive and well and living part but you understand...) A Euro has to be made and it doesn't matter that the tour buses roll up, the tourists roll off and take pictures AS LONG as they also BUY something. Post cards will be forthcoming. How can I resist?????


The weather has started its proper ottobre behaviour of rain, mist, general damp and a good reminder to NOT send the hiking boots home but maybe the Tevas and the tank tops. We woke up in Siena yesterday to a driving rain (class 4 rapids down the cobbled and flagstoned streets and alleys - maybe this is where the Italian Olympic team practices??) AND thunder and lightning! A bit of a change from the previous day's lovely sunshine and Tuesday's heat. Ah well, I'm really from The Island, eh? so this is actually comfortable for me. The hot pink (no fashion polizia comments, thank you) bumbershoot was a blessing and marked me as fair game for the beggars. Hmmmm.... I thought it was the umbrella but on reflection, I saw some rather wild ones carried by the locals, maybe it was the backpack and the general festooning that occurs when I move from place to place???

The Wenatchee Adventuress and I couldn't raise a taxi between our rapidly dwindling phone cards so we slogged up to the bus station where, for the delightful sum of .90 each, we got a bus directly to the ferro stazione and had time for a little more retail therapy (post cards and newspaper) before the train. The original plan was for both to go to Firenze but the train went to Empoli first and that made the TWA already half-way to Pisa and her last night so we said buon viaggio e arrivederci at Empoli and headed off on our separate ways. It was good to have another person for these past two weeks. We travelled very differently from the journeying with E ( several days in one place, making bookings by phone or by 'meeting', seeing one another in the morning and then maybe not until bedtime) and found some places that we would like to return to. All it takes is time and $$$$$!!!!!

So, it was on to Verona via Firenze and Bologna through Modena which (car types take note) is the home of Maserati and (for you foodies) aceto balsamico which is NOTHING like what we get in the local stores (except perhaps at Valoroso or the Med Mkt). If it hadn't been raining, I might have stopped (the Maserati factory is right beside the train line and near the station but the camera was buried) but I know how to get back there!!!!

The hostel I am staying in is another former convent. It has RULES which the Stuffy Old Lady part of me likes but which, according to the Comments Book, are not appreciated by some of the younger crew. Alora, and too bad!! I figure I raised the average age in my dorm (6 beds) by about 24 years! Curfew is at 2400 and lockout from 0900 to 1700 so I have a lot of time to deal with today.

I am using the Italian with more confidence (grazie mille, Mirella) and have had a couple of interesting conversations including one with a nonna on the train y'day in which we compared children (all good) and where they live (hers still in Italy and in the area and mine you know about...) and husbands (hers dead and mine you know about!!!) I am carrying a few p/c from home and find them really helpful for showing people. The one that gets the most play is the one of downtown which shows the streets and trees and houses. There is not the privilege of using up valuable growing land with houses here!

OK, this box is making blinking at me so I am going to find some Veronese adventures.

Arrivederci per adesso.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


The Senior Boy made it!!! Yahoo!!!

We've reached the goal, ... the pyramids are in view from the upsacle hotel that we are treating ourselves to after weaving our way through the kamakazi traffic around Cairo. Roy navigated the path our of Alexandria to the freeway to Cairo and we stuck to his tail through the heavy traffic. The painted lines on the road are only for decoration. Possession of roadspace means everything and anything an inch away from you is free space for anyone else. Once out of Alexandria, the road went through some small towns and farmland much like the Fraser Valley. In one village, the market was set up right in the through road which was crowded with people, produce, trucks, donkey carts and two-way traffic trying to wiggle through the maze, horns blaring. Very large speed bumps and crater potholes added flash panic moments. We finally made it to the freeway where traffic was much more sane. Several police roadblocks, like Lebanon. Land is flat but fertile with crops of corn, hay and vegetables. Freeway is two to four lanes each way with generally good pavement In some sections, there are huge steel billboards every 100 ft. of so, for miles! We skirted the edge of Cairo to get to Giza, and Roys's GPS worked its majic once again. The traffic became very dense and the driving very aggressive, ... much worse than Florence and about on par with Tripoli. Absolutely hair-raising. Certainly not for the timid! Being passed from behind with only inches to spare and then cut off in front on corners with lots of oncoming traffic does take its toll on the nerves. As we were fixed on the fenders in front of us, the pyramids flashed by above the trees and buildings. WOW! After some curbside navigating, we found the destination hotel and convinced them that we were, in fact, interested potential customers. We muast have looked like a group of low-life thugs next to the clean coach-class tourists just arriving from the airport. But, we're earned our view of the pyramids the hard way. Tomorrow we walk to the great piles of stone blocks, ... and search for more moderately priced accommodation. Can only do this once! Had the Ramadan buffet dinner, at a modest $20.00 Can, in breezeway restaurant, looking at the pyramids. How often is that going to happen?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

All Himself

As promised although, if you love me, you will scroll down and read me first!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday, we got up when the call to prayer from the neighbouring mosque jolted us awake at about 0550. the plan was to head South by 0700 to escape the heat during the 4 hour ride to the Siwa oasis. Breakfast of bread, egg & coffee was ready for us in our hotel by 0600. I'm sure that we're the only guests in the hotel, which is very clean, right across the street from the turquoise green Mediterranean Sea, and costs about $13.00 each with breakfast! And did I mention that gasoline is about 13 cents Canadian per litre. Dispite my surprise, we were actually on the road by 0735. Being Ramadan, there is very little traffic or activity in the mornings so we were on the desert road, heading South, very quickly. Four hours of steady crusing at 60-70 mph across the very flat desert, most of the distance without any vegitation whatsoever. At about the four hour mark, the landscape changed to rocky bluffs, high mesas and a few twisty bits in the road. We came around the last corner and saw the vista of the forest of palms with a large LAKE in the background. After mile-after-mile of flat hot sand and rock, the wall of green was a real shock. We motored into the town, which was bustling with people, and found the gas station. The bikes did well as none of us were on reserve yet after over 200 miles. We found a small shop that sold cold drinks and sat on the curb and ate the sandwhiches that we'd brought with us and watched the parade of people, donkey carts and 4 wheel drive vehicles go by. Fascinating. Feeling rested, we got a local map and motored out to a number of ancient sites, one of which was the Temple of the Oracle, dated at about 550 BC. Alexander the Great came here to pay his respects in about 350 BC. Had a hard-to-believe swimming experience in a large spring-fed, ancient stone lined pool on the edge of the sand desert. Water was at least 25 ft. deep, crystal clear with lots of little fish. Where did they come from we asked ourselves! Rode through the palm forest on narrow dirt roads. Looks like the oasis is about 5 miles / 8 km across. Much of this is irrigated by large ditches fed from the springs. We camped on the edge of the Sahara's sand dunes. Almost perfectly quiet. HJ made a delicious dish of rice and vegtetables and we ate being amazed the we were actually there. A nice bottle of wine would have been very nice, but I haven't seen any of that since Nice, three weeks ago. The moon was about 2/3 full and lit the landscape enough that we could see clearly. A perfect end to a great day ... well, having you there would have been perfect. This morning was very relaxed. After a coffee, Roy & I walked to the top of the nearby dunes. It really was like looking out at a sea of huge sand waves. Packing up the bike and wiping of the persistent oil, I found the problem; a broken breather hose from the left cylinder head. An amazingly quick and straight-forward repair has kept the left side clean after 4 hours of highway speed and I'm much relieved. We're back in our Matrouh hotel tonight and off to the East to El Alamein and maybe Alexandria, tomorro. A longer description of events, today, as we have some time at the computer an this nice shop before any food is available on the streets. My reading glasses escaped from the secure tank-bag storage today; am using the spare ones that you pointed-out for me. must now really be careful with these ones! My riding boots are starting disintegrate. Hope to spot some replacements. My riding jeans are now quite oil soaked and disreputable so I'll be looking to replace those also. Other than that, all seems to be OK, including me. No sickness or pain, yet, although I don't have as much energy in the heat. Certainly no complaints about the mid-Octobrer heat!

Note to spammers (and the rest of you)

Thanks to a nice young man from Chicago, I think I have put an intercept into this blog's comments section so you have to be a real person on the keyboard to make comments and not a machine. I got tired of reading about great ways to make money and would rather hear from you Real People!!!



A thing to note before going anywhere: check to see if there is, on the day one is planning to arrive, either (a) a football (soccer for you NA types) match on or (b) a beer festival complete with concert that starts at 2130 and finishes at 0130. Or Both.

Welcome to Siena and our lovely accommodation in an albergo run by nuns (curfew is 2330 and fat lot of good that is when one can't sleep b/c the band is ROCKing Il Campo and our windows and eardrums - thank you RSteves for the earplugs - you are a fine tour leader!) and a view that most people would pay 150E/night. We opened the shutters to find, to our R, across the ravine, the Duomo with its campanile; to the centre, the tower of Il Campo; and to the L, Il Torre. Three of the four major landmarks are in the view I see when I sit at the lift-top desk to write. Last night was an almost full moon which rose between the two towers. I am coming back here for sure even though I am staying 4 nights this time!!

Today is Sunday (domenica) and the town is crawling with people although not a lot of shops are open. This seems to be a destination for Italians as well as the rest of us! Gill did not have a good night (no RS earplugs and a bad case of grizzleguts) so we were up and out by 0900. Things on guide book maps look a long way away and before we knew it, we had arrived at Il Campo which, other than the preponderance of cigarette butts between the bricks, showed no sign of last night's concert. Clean as the proverbial whistle. No matter what I read about the sloped court, I was entirely unprepared for how sloped it is. I am glad it wasn't raining as there would have been a sheet of water aiming for the drains at the bottom, I guess. The piazza is very wide unless one starts to think about Il Palio which is a mad horse race held in July and again in August around the edge of this place in which case, it seems to shrink a whole bunch!! We wandered about in the early quiet and then headed back to the bar (settle down, everyone uses the bar like a cafe and the cafe like a bar. Go figure) just up the street from the albergo for coffee. By the time I had negotiated coffee, the newspaper and part of its crossword puzzle (in ink - living dangerously!!), it was 1230h. Time for more walking, some fruit, and, oh glory, an I/N cafe.

There will be a c&p of Gerry's most recent email - he is enjoying Egypt, especially now he has figured out the oil leak. Next trick for both of us seems to be laundry as our jeans are needing it although his sound worse than mine!!

Something I don't think I told you before: in Italy, all the bridges and tunnels (and there are a lot as they believe in making roads in the Roman fashion, i.e., level) have names and distances. The longest so far was a tunnel between Levanto and the French border which was 1947m long (I think) and whose name I have forgotten but was probably San or Santa Someone. Nice to know that the saints are part of the road system, eh? And the other thing: do you think that Mercedes Benz tests the suspension of its cars to include parking them two wheels up on the 45cm curb? Curious minds are wondering.

Tonight it is dinner (with reservations no less) in a trattoria which is in both our guide books but which still was recommended by the locals we asked and the back was filled with locals last night so we went to their suggested spot which was very nice although one group came in very noisily after the football and then completely disappeared from sight and sound down a staircase followed shortly thereafter by the waiter with industrial numbers of plates of food for them. We had pasta with a green salad. Meat sauce for G, scallions, bread cubes (?), and asiago for moi. We have tried panaforte. Think Christmas cake without the cake. Think Ultimate Energy Food. Think "TedR: you could ski, swim, walk on this stuff for a week." Think I'll stick to wine for my extra calories!!

Take care of all yourselves. Bravo, Junior Boy, on the job. Hope your kitchen is a/c!!

Arrivederci e a domani.

Giovanna (that's me in Italian!!)

Friday, October 14, 2005


There is a real risk when coming to this magical city of going "ga-ga" (the official word is "Stendahlism" due to the first guy to succumb and actually be recorded but I suspect people have been going "oh WOW!!!" here for a loooooooooong time.

Take today for instance. And earlyish (by my standards anyway) start with a "Let's go and look in the church we can see from our balcony". Turns out to be Santa Maria del Carmine and is quietly accepting us tourists to pray and gape at the ceiling and wait to be allowed in to see some Masaccio frescoes. We didn't b-c we "had plans" (namely this i-n place) which got changed as soon as The Other Traveller found out the prices. As you know, I stayed put and brought you somewhat up-to-date. Then it was a slight case of "hmm... what to do now?" The Uffizi line was one hour long and that didn't appeal but they have this great gizmo that gives the line-up times for other places. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo had nothing on the line-up list which I took as A SIGN and moseyed on over.

For the ridiculous sum of 6.40 Euros, I had the place almost to myself. Let us consider what was on offer: sculpture from the Duomo including Michelangelo's Pieta which was for his own tomb and which he broke up and a student fixed/finished. Then there was the heart-stopping Maddalena by Donatello (who doesn't seem to have a first name). He carved her out of poplar in the early 1400s and did the usual painting and addition of hair. She was very badly damaged during the 1966 floods and is now back to her original stravaged beauty - is this Mary before the seven demons were chased out or Mary at the tomb almost slipping back into madness? She is Mary of Buchenwald, of Rwanda, of Darfur and she is beautiful.

After a long visit with her, it was off to the almost ludicrous juxtaposition of the Luca della Robbia and Donatello (again) Le Cantorie. This was the first time that children as children were used as models and they are a hoot. The panels depict Psalm 150 and they are either singing or playing instruments and having, except for one little person with hands over ears, a grand time. Although they don't exactly look like the St. G. crew, I could see some similar behaviours!!!!

The next adventure was lunch: foccacia with omelette in it. All good and then it was back to Basilica di Santa Croce mostly b-c I knew I could sit in the pews and process what I had already seen. Make God(de) laugh. In the side chapel was a group from Poland celebrating mass. In Polish. With singing. A capella. I tucked in beside a pillar and thanked The Holy for the familiarity and similarity of liturgy. The singing was complex, warm, and deeply needed. I am missing music of the soul on this journey.

The pews still waited and I did some sitting but the tour groups kept coming by very quietly and I could hear snippets of the guides' commentaries: "tomb of Michaelangelo", "mark of the 1966 flood", "Capella dei Medici". I found a paper guide and, along with the above, Galileo's tomb, Fermi's tomb (for you "hard" scientists), another Statue of Liberty except she is the Statue of Poetry! and more frescoes than I could absorb including some by Giotto which means I can skip the ones in Padova (I know that verges on sacrilege but I'm about frescoed out.....) (And my neck starts to wonder if I am taking up contortionism on this journey as all these guys painted everything which means a lot of ceilings deserve to be looked at. Trust me, I am NOT coming home and starting with ours!!!) It was time for a break which meant a walk in the cloisters. Such quiet in the midst of Firenze is like an unexpected present.

And now, I'm about to investigate some food as it is after 2000h and the restaurants will be interested in my business. Did I buy the jacket? You will have to wait and see!!!



ok, people, (spammers don't need to answer this and I would cut you off if I could figure out the Italian to do so....) here is today's question:

Will she or won't she buy a leather jacket from Michaele at his stall in the Piazza Santa Croce? From Michaele who will "for you, make a very good deal"?

Stay tuned!!!

And another report from Himself...

And here is the next one so if you read this first you will be confused... go to the previous post and get the trip in chronological order or stay here and ........ Same rules apply about the italics...Next posting will be my adventures so far!!

Today, we stayed another day at this city by the sea, Marsa Matauh. Same nice sunshine and turquoise water. We headed to the bank this a.m. to exchange our remaining Libyan currancy. Bank wasn't open at 1000, so we waited under any shade that we could find. Once inside at 1035, TP & I pooled our Libyan notes and he stood in line for about 15 minutes only to be told that the National Bank of Egypt doesn't exchange Libyan currency! Now, what does that tell you about that international relationship? So, we went outside to wait for the other two to arrive, and a young Egyptian man approached us. He pointed to the Libyan currancy in Tony's hand and pulled out some Egyptian notes. We had 47 Lybyan Dinars and our rough calculation was that they were worth about 240 Egyptian Pounds. We agreed that we'd be happy, extatic actually, to retrieve 200 Egyptian Pounds, about $40.00 Can. The young man, who didn't appear to speak any English, too four 10 Dinar notes and offered 4 Egyptian 50 Pound notes. We looked at each other with surpressed glee. We took the Egyptian notes and gave him all the Libyan notes, being very happy to be rid of them! Our free-market currency exchange on the steps of the National Bank. Had another wonderful swim this afternoon. Cooler breeze today. We like Egypt, especially after spending 9 days in Libya. There are fewer cars here and the drivers are not nearly as insanely aggressive as in Libya. There is much less garbage and the buildings are better maintained and have more colour. We saw two street washing trucks this a.m., and grass being cut in a nearby park. I don't think we saw ANY grass in Libya. People are helpful as they were in both Libya and Tunisia. This is a tourist city and this far past the main season. We are the only ones in our medium-sized, very clean hotel ($30.00/night for a double room). The restaurant food is basic for westerners, but a reasonable meal of BBQ chicken for TP & me and vegetarian for Roy & Helena, last night, cost $10.00 total, and we were stuffed! Ramadan means that most of the shops are closed during the day and open late in the afternoon. Food sources are few in the day, but we have been surviving on the goodies found in small grocery and fruit shops. And, did mention that gasoline is about $0.25 Can / litre !! Tony is in Gasoline Heaven. Also, the internet connection is very good and I've mastered the key command to convert the keyboard from Arabic to English. Tomorrow we head South for about 3 to 4 hrs. to a small oasis, with, we read, dunes, lake(s) and palm trees. Likely an overnight camp in the desert. I expect that the landscape will be absolutely flat desert, as it has been since a very brief respite around Durna, in Libya. After that, we have to retrace the route back to here, and then head East towards Alexandria, stopping at the famous and significant WWII El Alamein battle ground. No doubt, much to look at there. Then to the Suez Canal, for a quick look, then to Cairo for the destination pyramids. Not enough time to go South to Luxor as I had hoped. Hope you all are well!

Trying something new....

I am hoping to cut and paste some of Himself's adventures rather than paraphrasing and re-typing so let's see if it works...... Una, due, tre.... YES!!! OK, the first one is below and I will rummage around and find the next one. I am going to change it to itlaics so you will have a hint that it is a different voice.

We crossed into Egypt, yesterday, taking 3 1/2 hours at the border, with a dust storm and some rain. We had the assistance for expedited service, for a fee of course, from a young man who must be on patrol for foreigners. We gladly paid at the end of the ordeal, as we'd never have made it before the officials shut down early for Ramadan. We camped out in the desert as dusk approached. Huge thunder storm on the horizon with great flashes of lightning. We escaped most of the fury, but retreated to our tents when it started to shower. Woke, after a off & on sleep, to a clear sky and a cool breeze. We're at a nice, inexpensive hotel across the street from the sea. Had a swim this afternoon as soon as we got settled. Water is a perfect turquoise green, crystal clear and warm. The restaurants will soon open up, after sunset,and the Ramadan fast for the day is over.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cinque Terre

After the usual adventures(can Gill and I do ANYthing without an adventure? Just once maybe....) including realizing about 7 minutes into the LONGest tunnel either of us has ever ridden a train through that maybe it wasn't going to stop at Vernazza, including getting onto the totally wrong platform at La Spezia and having to run like Ben Johnson after steroids to catch the correct train BACK to Vernazza, including getting set up (??maybe??) by the guy in the bar whom Gill asked for directions to GiulanO's place and getting GiulianA instead and finding ourselves with an affiticamere (essentially a self-catering flat) which is not near the sea but is very nice especially in the morning when, for our viewing pleasure the commune has aranged for all the traffic to run past on the one-lane road which means that if they get to the corner across from our place and meet someone coming in the opposite direction, something's gotta give. It took us an extra 15 minutes to leave this morning watching the show because on top of everything else, it was market day. Think: 8 passenger vans laden with the essentials for a small village making their ways down this road and the locals who don't work here trying to make their way up! As I started to say: Gill (Giuliana) et moi (Giovanna) are in Vernazza on the Cinque Terre. Oh, and we couldn't get the stove to light so G went off and found the manager who must have thought we were total bimbos - doesn't everyone know you have to push the knob IN to let the gas OUT? We had to sign promises to turn it off before bed so we didn't have KABOOM!!

And today, another day in almost paradise. I started off on a 2 hour hike to Monterosso singing and giving thanks that I hadn't sent the hiking boots home just yet. This place is lovely but there need to be a few guidelines. They follow.

Guidelines for Travellers of the Female Persuasion (especially those on the Cinque Terre when I am)
1. Take a ziploc plastic bag supply for carrying away your used tissue. those little white wads on the trail are as offensive as the dogshit you have probably complained about in France.
2. Turn your cell phone off - especially if you are from South London and think they won't hear you over the phone. If you are too important to turn your cell off, you don't belong on the CT.
3. "No", "No, thank you." and "You go ahead, dear. I'll stay here for the day and (a) go shopping (b) go to the beach, (c) go for lunch with that cute guy I saw last night who for sure doesn't want to walk up 2746 stairs before coffee." are all acceptable answers to "Let's walk the Cinque Terre path." Saying "Yes", "Sure", or "You bet" does NOT give you a free pass to whine while you are doing the walking. The rest of us also chose to be here and don't recall listening to you whine being included in the price of our tickets.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

For those of you wondering about Himself, here's the latest. Last heard from on the 7th Oct from Libya. They have seen some Roman ruins, he has swum in the Med, his airmattress has developed an internal haemorrhage, he knows more French than he thought, the landscape has become a bit lunar in places, he has seen camels and they (riders not camels. At least, I know the riders were but I'm not sure about the camels...) were heading for some more Brit cemetaries. The various machinery is running well and the bank machines are non-existent (that's ok, sweetie, I'm making sure they don't forget us - just kidding!!)

And now, my faithfuls, I am off for a shower as that was only 2h one way and I walked back too. Hmmm.... maybe a gelato? Limone with the occasional seed still in it. Si, grazie.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Russian Orthodoxy

is not for sissies. E and I went to church this morning: A lot of church: 2.5 HOURS of church. In Russian mostly and some French. We had, as far as we can figure, morning prayer, confession for several people, a wonderful chanted liturgy, a homily in Russian AND French, a seventh inning stretch, a lot of people wandering in and out and lighting candles and genuflecting and kissing icons while the rest of the service was going on, communion - with a spoon which kind of makes our common cup issues during cold season a bit silly, and then a baptism followed with a closing blessing with what looked like another opportunity for bread, and then announcements. All, except for the homily, STANDING!!!!!!! Average age of the standees: 74.6 yrs.

Note to file: St. G. Choir members: there will be NO MORE WHINING!!!!!

Tomorrow E leaves and TNA and I head for Cinque Terre using my totally forgotten Italian.

Au revoir e a bientot.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Good Day...

Ok people, prepare for the next greatest adventure: Moi writing this on a French keybd which has been changed to Irish English AND without my glasses in an I/N shop where I am decidedly in the minority being (a) female, (b) over 50, (c) North American and (d) a touch (sort of) typist!! Stay tuned....

Today was a very good day: from back to front: The Next Great Adventuress arrived safe and sound, has been fed, and sent off to bed in TheHostelfromHell with instructions to show up by 0915 tomorrow if she wants coffee before going to church at the Russian Orthodox Cathdral of Nice. Description to follow. She will be moving in with E et moi for tomorrow night as it will be easier than trying to haul our various selves to meeting places on Monday morning. This way, we can evict E (just kidding) and sort ourselves out before being evicted ourselves.

The before part was getting to the market in old Nice before 1000h which means while it still looks like a market and not like a stop for various cruise ship tours. (Children: If you EVER see me following behind someone with a number on a longish popsicle stick, you may send me immediately to The Home, DNPGm DNC $200) We came home with the following essentials: 1 baguette, 1 avocado perfectly ripe and it wasn't the only one in the pile, 1 goat cheese that was y'day still in the goat, 1 feuillite de chocolat (don't ask, should be on the list of 7 Deadly Sins), 5 beautiful post cards - mostly for Poppa and Nana, 1 bar of mimosa soap, 1 Kodak camera wit 6 pictures already on it, 2 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of balsamic vinegar, an understanding of "Petit Bateau", AND (Car fiends pay attention.......)

3 tow trucks, 2 police officers, and about half a dozen car owners who are going to wish they had paid attention to the signs!!

Here's the thing: WHEN they take their NO PARKING signs seriously here, they take them VERY seriously. Especially on Saturday morning near the market when the worker types who only can get to the renovation site ON Saturday show up to actually work! With LIVRAISON signs to go in their windows and with angry young men who have to work Saturdays when tey would rather be doing other things. Don't make rude gestures at AYM because they will have cell phones and call the Police (who just happen to have their police station 30 seconds around th corner - can we say "you silly twits who thought you could get away with being rude to AYM??") who will show up in jug time b/c it's Saturday MORNING and there is no real crime happening in Nice anyway and who then issue tickets left and right and THEN call the tow trucks. Which are the cutest things you can imagine: take our tow trucks and squish them into about 1/3 their size then give them magic dollies (well, I'd never seen them....) that they can slip under the wheels to slide the vehicle sideways out of a parking space that no Canadian outside of Quebec would even have considered and a couple of tow truck guys in safety gear, a sunny morning and it not being MY car, and it was GREAT!! They had about 3 cars moved before one of the owners came back and then it got interesting!!! Eliz had to threaten to go a drink coffee without me and I didn't actually see the end but the street was almos emply except for the AYM and their trucks. Cost to deal with this little refusal to pay attention to signage: 350 Euros just to get the stamps on the ticket from the police to say "Fine Paid" + costs to towing company. A titch dear for a lovely Saturday morning in the market, eh????

Friday, October 07, 2005


Gifts do not always come in boxes with ribbons, nor do they always come when usually expected (that would be Christmas, birthday and the occasional Mother's Day).

Gifts come in the spectacular acoustics of the empty chapel in the pope's palace in Avignon and the church at the abbey at Le Thoronet and a kind guide who asks a singer if she would be willing to stand behind the pillar and sing when he gives the sign. Thank you, mon guide, thank you, Mr Yelland, thank you, William Byrd.

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis. Sed nomine tuo da gloriam.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The wind is not in from Africa...

it is from the North and is called le Mistral and is an "extenuating circumstance" allowable in courts of law here! I am not sunbathing on the beach of Cassis but I have walked from the village to the first calanque and back and have had two French moments within five minutes of one another. The first was the two women I saw on the beach and recognized immediately as French: it was lunch time and they were having their lunch break. One was wearing dark trousers, a shirt and a cardigan draped over her shoulders. The other was wearing a very short black shirt (would not have passed the H/W family bendover test in a million years) and a Persian lamb style jacket. Both women had enormous satchel-like bags and were about 25 m from the roadway. How did I know they were French? B/c the one with the skirt was wearing a pair of the highest stillettoes I have ever seen. On her feet ON THE BEACH! We are not talking anything like a walkway, people, we are talking gravel beach and when she stood up, her heels sank into the gravel and she walked back to the car park with her heels sinking at every step. I know b/c I watched!! Only the French!!! (And the curious Canadian!)

The other moment was up the hill where I watched 3 men dealing with a road repair: 2 wearing safety vests hanging over the barrier smoking and watching the one not wearing a safety vest run the clamshell on the back of his camion to deliver the dirt where he thought it should go. The camion did have dumping capability but that, apparently, would have taken too little time!!!

Cassis is lovely: very French tourist as opposed to German/Brit/Amer. There is a very good harbour to the east of several calanques which are essentially tiny fjords which are either moorages for hundreds of boats of all sizes or fishing/swimming holes accessible only by boat or goats!! I think it is the last place Antoine St-Exupery was heard from as he flew his last mission of reconnaissance during WW II. The village is strung along the harbour (restaurant upon restaurant all looking out over boats: this would be almost my idea of heaven) and tucked up behind. It is impossible to escape the slight smell of the sea but, as the tide is negligible, it is nothing like at the Coast!!

We had a spectacular dinner last night of soupe de poissons, upon which we floated large croutes covered with rouille. This was followed by a fish in olive sauce with a broiled stuffed tomato, a slightly curried vegetable terrine and a sprinkle of fresh water cress. (Guess who's feeling better???) Two of the Tour-ists were having their birthdays so wine was abundantly provided - house white. Dessert was Tarte Tatin and a rousing version of Stevie Wonder's Birthday Song!

We spent yesterday morning in Arles (more Romans!!) (AND the mistral.... I actually hid out in the Roman amphitheatre and the RC cloisters to try and stay warm) and then drove across the Camargue. Doris: we DID see white horses but they were at a distance and looked to be in fields rather than running free like yours. It was sooooo windy that all the flamingoes we saw had their heads tucked under their wings: they looked like vandalized plastic ones!!

Tomorrow we are on our way to Villefranche-sur-mer for the last two nights of The Tour and then E and I have to figure out how to spend our last couple of days together. We missed a few things in Nice so will probably end up there. We are not too sure about a return engagement at the hostel - stay tuned!!!

In the meantime, there is laundry to check and bouillabaisse to scout for dinner! Blessings to you all!

Au revoir et a bientot.....

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Le Pont du Gard

is simply the most astonishing thing I have ever seen. There is NOTHING to compare with walking down a wide pathway with a whack of fellow travellers (languages heard including English, Dutch, German - yes, it's getting easier to tell the difference- French, Italian) and seeing the top of this aqueduct float through the trees. It is 3 huge levels up and there was no way any picture from before can compare with the one now in my mind's eye. And, of course, not in any camera b/c blah blah blah.... We walked across on the C17th bridge which was built beside it to allow for traffic and looked at the graffitti from the 1800's (journeymen masons on their own Grand Tour) and, on the aqueduct itself, the original mason's marks to show which stones fit together. People, we are talking about graffitti which is over 2000 years old. Somehow, I don't think the current characters who consider themselves graffitti artists will still have their stuff on walls in 4005.

And then there was the museum. When the French decide to make a point of doing something, they do it exceptionally well. This museum was an "all-dayer" for which we had about an hour. Poppa would have loved it and I will go back if the occasion arises. Lots of re-creations of how it was built including static models and movies of "Romans and slaves".

This was after the visit to Les Baux which is the second most visited site in France after Paris. (Mostly b/c some 3* Michelin chef moved into the neighbourhood about 20 years ago and the whole area became popular but it is a lovely village.) Another one on a hill but, thanks to the wind, it was very clear and bright this morning and we could see from Arles to beyond Cassis - in other words, where we are going tomorrow. Louis XIV has a lot to answer for as he went about tearing down fortifications anywhere he felt threatened leaving us C21st tourists with a lot of piles of rock to look at and exercise our imaginations over! Too bad he didn't leave the forts and time-warp set up demolition of all the tourist shops. Luv a duck there are a lot of people who want to separate one from one's money!! So far, it's mostly postcards and some have even been sent!!

Thank you for your concerns: I am feeling better although still taking it very carefully in the grocery department. Today, I have had a salade Nicoise and creme caramel and still no wine. Both were good although TR makes a better cc. E and I are going to have dinner somewhere but it will be very small. The meals here are different from both home and Italy. Very small b'fast (cafe au lait, croissant), medium lunch, and as many as four or five courses for dinner. (No wonder they don't need much b'fast, eh??) There is always a "meat" course with dinner (fish, meat, poultry) and often a cheese course as well so the possibility for overloading the liver (if wine is also included) is excellent!! Last night we had smoked salmon on greens for a starter, a beef stifado with noodles, and a nougat (can we say pancreas workout???) ice cream. I was glad of the walk to and from the restaurant!!

Will save the 4 hour meal in Vaison la Romaine for another writing as now, my noble reader, I must walk back to the hotel and find E. We have only one key for the room and she's in it with the key. That would be our room which is 3 floors up the windingest staircase and the one which has the 6 foot ceilings under the eaves.

Au revoir et a bientot.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Sur le pont d'Avignon....

Well, I'm not exactly dancing having acquired some form of malade. Damittohell. Not a BIG malade, just une petite but enough to take the smile off my face and the joy out of food and there is a lot of food to have the joy taken out of. Suffice to say that The Tour is cleaning up on my food costs.

But enough about moi and my guts.... Where have we been, you ask? Well, "on the bus" will do for one answer and what an experience that has been. First bus was fine even though it was about a 40 passenger one for all 24 of us. Max-the-driver was very good and he hauled us around some corners through the Gorges du Verdon that would have made me green on the back of the bike but (thank you, SeaBands) which I weathered pas de probleme. The motorcyclist who met us on the blind corner probably needed to change his knickers and his lady on the back definitely did. Sorry, I didn't get the make of the bike or the year.

We spent the night in Aiguine, pop 168 before the bus arrived. Its people make up one of the many, many small villages that have been honoured for leur resistance et leur silence during WW II. Our guide said that the trails through the Gorges were used as a conduit to move people once the Nazis moved in. We have seen memorials for the dead of both WW in all the villages we have been in but the ones for the Second War list not only war casualties but also those who were deportee. It brings the reality of such a short time ago back into sharp focus. The numbers from the First War are simply boggling: 80% of the young men of France died.

From Aiguine, we drove to Rousillon and my old nemesis Bus Sick came back with a vengeance. Not even SeaBands were helping and what should have been a 90 minute trip became almost 2.5 hours with stops for "fresh air" Truth to tell, I wasn't the only one but I was the voice the driver recognized!!! Roussillon is a beautiful town on a hill of ochre (the sign in the bathroom said to please not use the towels to clean ochre from shoes). The light is warm and full and the shutters of blue-grey lavender are the perfect contrast to all the reds and oranges and yellows. I spent most of that day sleeping off the bus and the evening prowling about the silent streets with E. Cats abound and are quite willing to be approached as long as it is in French: Bon jour ou Bon soir seems to work. Dogs also abound and often off-leash but exceptionally well-behaved. Malheuresement, their owners are not so well-behaved so any walking is done with head down against the copious amts of dogshit. I'm sure there are fantastic sights I have completely missed in an effort to keep my shoes clean!!

In Roussillon, I did my finances to discover that somehow I hadn't spent anywhere near as much as I thought I had. This was a bad thing to figure out especially right before a quick walk in the local market which landed me up in front of a shawl lady who, when she found out we were Canadians, dropped the French in favour of her native Glaswegian!! Was not really that much easier to understand but I did end up with a lovely silk shawl and E with a lovely woolen one. And then, it was on to Isle sur la Sorgue for another market but this one was food so we did the potluck picnic and ate amazingly in a park beside the river.

Last night and the night before we were in Vaison la Romaine after an afternoon in Orange. First about Orange: I have the postcards to prove it but it still requires a huge space of silence to appreciate that everywhere the Romans went, they built theatres (we all know what they look like, right) WITH an enormous back wall (there are only 3 still in existence and one is in Orange). For a variety of reasons, the back wall wasn't torn down (thank you, mistral wind) and reused as some C18th patio. There is a lot of renovation going on on the site and parts were covered with scaffolding which was covered with workers yelling at one another and handing tools up and down. If they had been a bit more stripped down and the scaffolding had not been metal, it could have been C1st or 2nd!!

Vaison la Romaine is small and we stayed in the charming Hotel Beffroi. E and I decided that there is unlikely to be anything like it in NA. First of all, it was built about 400 years ago and, given the narrowness of hallways, tightness of stairways and general unlevelness of the floors, WCB wasn't going to be very happy with them!! We, on the other hand, were delighted! The rooms were all different and cozy in their own special ways.

More Roman ruins in Vaison and an excellent guide through them. I am assuming that you who are passionately interested will be googling these places and the rest of you will be taking naps! When my stomach settles down, I will try to do justice to some of the food we have had. Last night's dinner was memorable for quality, presentation and length but it will have to wait 'til my back teeth stop clenching...

For those of you wondering about Himself: he is (or should be) in Libya by today having had a good trip through Tunisia. He has even had a swim in the Mediterranean from the other side. They had a torrential downpour a couple of nights ago: guess the Rain Gods couldn't ignore that many Brits in one place. With the beginning of Ramadan in a couple of days, their trip could become a bit more "interesting" as most things are closed during the day. Stay tuned for late-breaking reports!!

And that's the end of today's time. Sorry it's reading more of a travelogue and less of adventure. Will try to get back into myself in the next day or so.

Au revoir et a bientot......